The battle in the trenches. It's absolutely one of the most important pieces to building a great football team. Whether it's defensive lineman built to provide pressure, stop the run or tie up blockers or offensive lineman built to clear out space, the big guys really are the infrastructure of the offense or defense.
Kansas has toyed and tinkered with the offensive line quite a bit in recent years due to injury, missed expectations and a variety of other reasons. Last year they finally seemed to find some stability and they also had the makings of a pipeline for the future. When looking at the position heading into spring, it's nice to see that development and the potential that this group brings as we head into the 2012 season.
|Rossville, Kan./Rossville HS
Zlantik has become the leader of this group and he has the potential to play at the next level. This is his last opportunity to real make an impact with the program and while he's improved significantly since that first season when he made the switch from defense, it's been difficult to really get behind the offense in general during his tenure.
In a perfect world that changes a bit this year. He's going to have an opportunity to showcase his abilities in a pro-style offense with a pro-style quarterback. He also has a group of running backs that can be very effective if the blocking is there up front. I think it goes without saying that Zlatnik will be a big part of making that happen and this year the expectations will be high for his senior season.
|Austin, Texas/Westwood HS
Marrongelli has battled injury at times and also perhaps a little bit of the motivational bug early in his career. At the same time he did seem to turn a corner last year which you would somewhat expect from an upperclassman who is given more repsonsibility. Marrongelli is an aggressive, physical player and he's entering his last go around this year with the Jayhawks after spending a full season starting at guard as a junior. Early indications are that Marrongelli will slide to center where he played a back up role in 2011 and I think that is a great move for this team if they can find someone to effectively fill his spot at guard.
|McPherson, Kan./McPherson HS
Hawkinson was one of the more hyped players on the offensive line over the past three years. It isn't necessarily something he asked for, but before departing Mark Mangino basically labeled him the next Anthony Collins. Given the success of that group and Collins, it was going to be tough for Hawkinson to meet expectations.
Since that time he's gone from left tackle to right tackle and now he heads back to left tackle. He is definitely a player that seems to have the physical characteristics that could make him very successful, but he does some things very well and others still need work. That's fine, that's the name of the game. The important thing for him this year is that he's going to be protecting the blind side of a pretty high profile quarterback and that can be a great thing for any left tackles NFL prospects. Hawkinson has a huge opportunity and responsibility in front of him heading into his senior season.
|Hesston, Kan./Hesston HS
Riley Spencer has been labeled as the player that has the most NFL looking frame and physical stature. The problem is that we've never really seen him on the field. Part of that has been injury, part of that has been the players in front of him. Personally I prefer a program where the offensive line is built with juniors and seniors and the underclassman are working to fill that role when it is there turn. It's Riley's turn.
Riley heads into spring ball as the first team right tackle. Kansas needs him to lock down that spot and be the physical presence that everyone has always believed he can be. To some extent we know what we're getting with the first three players mentioned above. Riley has the potential to really help this group and the offense take a step forward if he can step right in and play at a reasonably high level.
|Owasso, Okla./Owasso HS
Howard has bounced around as a backup at a variety of spots during his first few years at Kansas. Seemingly by default, he is slated as the guard opposite Zlatnik for spring practices. In Wies's words he is an upperclassman that's been around for awhile and it makes sense. But he will need to really take advantage of his time because there is a big junior college guard coming in this summer and that will be the biggest competition on the offensive line heading into fall camp. Four of the five spots are probably pretty secure. Howard has the first crack at the fifth, but competition is on the way.
|Lenexa, Kan./St. James Academy/Benedictine
Burgoon is a walk on with the program entering his 3rd season.
|Norristown, Pa./Woodberry Forest HS
Kolumber is a monster but he's still developing. Right now he is slated as the backup at left guard despite being a guy that would seem to have the frame of a tackle. During his first two years with the program Kolumber has gained experience at a variety of positions though and that could help him in the future as he becomes a more legitimate option as a starter.
|La Mirada, Calif./La Mirada HS
Peters is pushing for minutes at the right tackles spot and he had been labeled as the most college ready player in the large offensive line class from a year ago. Peters is a big, strong player and being able to give him a full season to redshirt and another year to develop in the Weis system could be very beneficial for him down the line. That said, he will compete and could be a player that Kansas turns to in the event of injury.
|Arlington, Texas/Arlington HS
Martin has done a great job at building himself from a physical standpoint in his first year. Now the new S&C staff just needs to ensure that the 30+ pounds added to his frame is 'good' weight. It's also interesting to note that Martin started the spring listed as the backup left tackle. I would think that's a pretty big compliment given what Weis hopes to do and who Weis has taking snaps at QB. This will be an interesting story to follow headed out of 2012 and into 2013.
|Wheaton, Ill./Warrenville South HS
Luhrsen is a very athletic player with very good size. Honestly he almost seems like a great candidate at the backup left tackle along with Martin. But Luhrsen is currently listed as a backup guard to Gavin Howard and it seems likely that he will have a chance to earn minutes although he'll have to fight through Howard and incoming junior college transfer Aslam Sterling. The likely scenario has Luhrsen earning a backup role and continuing to groom himself for 2013 when Kansas will have several spots open on the offensive line and Luhrsen and others will be entering year three.
|Overland Park, Kan./Blue Valley West HS
Admire was believed to be the front runner at the center position had Turner Gill been around. With the move by Marrongelli it looks like he'll play a backup role for one more year and that is probably the ideal scenario for building an offensive line at Kansas. But I wouldn't count him out just yet. He did come in a semester early last year and he's in a position where if needed he can definitely step in and play. If Marrongelli is needed at guard or an injury forces him to move to guard, Admire will need to be ready to step in and play.
Aslam Starling - 6'5" 330 Jr
Starling will likely step in and immediately compete for the job alongside Gavin Howard at the right guard spot. It's really the one and only spot on the offensive line that doesn't have a fairly clear picture to it. Certainly the hope would be that Howard can show enough this spring to really put himself in a strong position to take that spot, but if he doesn't, Starling will be a strong candidate to solidify the offensive front.
For the last couple of years Iowa State has been somewhat of a strong blueprint for what Kansas might want to aim for with an offensive line group. The Cyclones have had a host of homegrown talent interspersed with other strong players from outside the area. The majority had spent 3 to 4 years with the program before starting and developed both physically and from a talent perspective to the point that they were able to compete with anyone in the Big 12. It has been a unit filled with redshirt sophomores, but mostly juniors and seniors, even redshirt seniors.
The good news for Kansas is that they seem to have that model set up for 2012 and potentially beyond. This year the Jayhawks will likely start three Kansans on the offensive line and all three have spent three to four years with the program. They should be and look to be ready to take that leap and some even put together strong seasons last year despite a 2-10 team finish. Add in a few more upperclassman with experience and Kansas could be looking at this being a huge area of strength. It seems like we've said that for two years now but it's just hard to imagine this group not coming together and providing the foundation for what we all hope is a dramatically improved offense.