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Kansas Football 2013 Preseason Report Card: The Offense

It's time to give some preliminary grades to each unit of this year's football team

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

As in previous years, I'll be going through each unit of the football team this season, grading their performances each week. It seems the topic of the grading scale is subject to a lot of debate each year, so I'll go over it again before I get too far into this

A - A top flight unit. The quality you'd expect to find in team competing for a conference title, if not a national title
B - Solid, above average. A B unit is an area of strength, hard to stop, but not necessarily overwhelming
C - Average, by BSC conference standards. What you'd find on any 6-6 type of team hoping for a bowl game
D - Below average. Not necessarily getting pushed around, but an area in need of improvement
F - We're KU football fans. We know what an F looks like

Today I'll go through the offense, with a gradecard coming soon for defense and special teams

Quarterbacks - C

There seem to be two schools of thought out there on Jake Heaps. In the minds of the first, he's an experienced quarterback (18 career starts) who broke all the freshman passing records at BYU, and has looked good in his first two spring games. In the second, he's a castoff who lost his starting job at a mid-major school, and the only thing we've seen him do in a Kansas uniform is look solid against our own defensive backfield (not exactly the toughest test). In the end, both sides have a point. I don't think we have enough evidence to assume Heaps can take over and be an above-average signal-caller (though I suppose it's certainly possible), but the flameout after a coaching change/offensive style change at BYU doesn't necessarily doom him. We know he can have success in D1 football as a starter (more than we could really say for Dayne Crist), so I think the reasonable thing to do would be to split the difference and expect roughly average performance out of him.

I considered upgrading this to C+ based on the backup situation. For all Michael Cummings' shortcomings last year, we do have an experienced starter in the backup role, one who nearly engineered a few big upsets. Not every team can claim that. Still, Cummings looked terrible at reading a defense and throwing a pass last year. Since those are a quarterback's primary responsibilities, it seemed silly to bump the grade up purely based on Cummings.

Running Backs - A

I went back and forth a bit with this one. Are Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon going to see time at running back, or only at this new flanker position? Is the flanker going to be in the backfield enough to be considered a running back? In the end, I'm considering Pierson and Bourbon about 60-70% running back, and 30-40% receiver. I just don't see those two (especially Bourbon) running posts and curls like wideouts. It sounds like they'll be running some routes, but I'd guess they'll be more involved in sweeps, screens and jets. Long story short, I'm factoring them in pretty heavily here.

James Sims is a legitimate NFL prospect, and while Darrian Miller hasn't seen the field in a while, he was taking playing time from Sims in his first go-around at Kansas. He has great balance and enough wiggle to do well in space, making him a versatile option behind the battering ram we have in Sims. If Cox doesn't redshirt, he provides a solid back who can block and fight for extra yards. Pierson is one of the fastest players in the conference and is a home run threat every time he gets the ball with room to move. We still haven't seen a ton of Bourbon, but when he's healthy, he's big, fast and strong. I may be reaching just a touch with a straight A rating, but I would absolutely put this group up there with any other Big 12 squad's backfield.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends - C-

Remember that this group has a little Pierson/Bourbon factored in. Nick Harwell could have singlehandedly made this group a push for a better grade, but he'll be watching from the sidelines this year. In his place, we still have Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay, who flashed great playmaking ability at the spring game. Expectations for him do need to be tempered somehwat, as McCay never really saw the field in his first college stop, despite playing on a team that uses 4 receivers on nearly every play. First in line to start opposite McCay is Christian Matthews, whose game experience mostly consists of playing QB out of the "Jayhawk" formation. He's never made an impact at the receiver spot, so I'm a little concerned to see him listed with the ones. Rodriguez Coleman looks to push him for playing time. The juco transfer has drawn some rave reviews in camp, so I'm anxious to see if he can be a receiver who actually gets some separation from coverage. We also have Turzilli (aka Captain Inconsistent) who at least has the capacity to become a downfield threat, and Tre Parmalee, who saw time as a true freshman, but was never really involved in the offense. Josh Ford is making a push for time, but we've seen very little of him outside of special teams.

Tight end could be a point of strength, at least at starter. Jimmay Mundine was by far more effective as a receiver than any of our wideouts last year and may be a frequent target for heaps this year. Behind him is Trent Smiley, who will likely see time in more of a blocking role.

With the involvement of great athletes like Pierson and Bourbon in the passing game, I think this could be a serviceable unit. This position group was just so bad last year, I'm hesitant to even hand out a straight C. Maybe Matthews is really hitting his stride, but his presence at the top of the depth chart concerns me. So does the fact that neither Turzilli or Parmalee seems to have improved enough to be considered for first team reps. We have the potential to be better here than last year, but I'll need to see some open receivers in a real game before my skepticism subsides.

Offensive Line - C- (ish)

Only one of the presumed starters (Aslam Sterling) saw playing time last year. Dylan Admire hasn't seized the starting center spot, resulting in a surprising position change for Pat Lewandowski, which seems like a bit of a reach to me. I admittedly know little about the three jucos who appear to have earned the remaining starting spots, so I'm erring on the side of caution with them. I know Weis has said this group may actually be an improvement in terms of run blocking, but I'll need to see it first. As of now, this is looks like an untested group of guys who (outside of Sterling) have no experience playing o-line at the D1 level. This group may be a pleasant surprise, but we can't assume that as of now.

Offense Overall - C

With the weapons we have at the skill positions (namely RB and flanker), the offense has the potential to succeed beyond a C level, but there are a lot of question marks. The offensive line will need to gel quickly to avoid Heaps taking a lot of hits, and the running backs can only do so much if there aren't holes to run through. If the line comes together, Heaps provides adequate passing, McCay looks like he did at the spring game, and the new flanker position is worked effectively into the offense, our offense could really produce at a high level. As of now, that's a lot of ifs. I'm somewhat optimistic, but trying to keep expectations tempered.