Spring football is here, along with the standard glut of fluff pieces about how the team and new coaching staff look. It happens everywhere. Aside from the occasional injury or position change, spring football provides very little information relevant to the upcoming season. We all know this, yet every year fans like myself get sucked in to reading pieces from media members present at practice, scouring them for bits of information that may be useful moving forward. This year, I have picked up on a couple of pertinent details.
First, and not surprisingly, the depth chart is going to be a work in progress for the foreseeable future. New coaches always come in and preach competition, talking about how each spot will need to be earned, but by and large everyone knows who "the guys" are. The state of the roster has forced an air of truth into head coach David Beaty's talk about competition. Virtually anyone on the team who made an impact last year is gone, leaving many starting positions open to last year's 2nd stringers and some new faces.
The staff has been insistent that Michael Cummings will not be handed the starting spot at QB this season, but most accounts seem to indicate he is seeing the most reps with the first team. Given just how poor Cozart looked in making reads and delivering accurate balls the last year years, it seems unlikely that he would unseat Cummings, who showed glimpses of being able to find success in the short-to-intermediate passing game last year. TJ Millweard's name continues to come up as a competitor for the starting job, but based on past performance and what is being reported from spring camp so far, I will be very surprised if anyone other than Cummings is running the new offense come September.
Speaking of the new offense, all reports suggest it's going to be up-tempo. It seems speed and tempo are huge focal points for new OC Rob Likens. Given Likens' history and statements made by Beaty about wanting to run an air raid offense, I'd say the early assumptions that our offense will resemble the 2014 Cal offense are probably accurate. By the way, Cal's offense rattled off over 81 plays per game last year. Oregon ran just 74 per game, to give you an idea of just how fast the new offense might be looking to operate.
Defensively, the main change seems to be a shift in the defensive front. In recent years, Kansas employed a defensive front that featured three down linemen, three true linebackers, and a hybrid DE/LB called the "BUCK," who was almost always charged with beating his man off the edge to create chaos in the backfield. Kansas had a few players, notably Toben Opurum and Michael Reynolds, who were fairly well suited for that role, and given depth issues on the line, it seemed like a reasonable setup. This year, no one stands out as being built for that BUCK role, and the defensive line is ill-suited to try and occupy all five linemen with just a three man front. As a result, it appears we will see a shift back to a 4-3 or 4-2-5 base.
I like this for a few reasons. First, we never had a true nose tackle, which always limited the effectiveness of the three down lineman approach. We also have a decent playmaker on the line in senior DE Ben Goodman. Goodman flourished in the BUCK role as a sophomore, finishing with 7.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks despite splitting time there with Reynolds. Last year, in effort to get Goodman on the line full time, they bulked him up and moved him to DE, whose primary objective in that scheme was to occupy blockers. I thought this was a waste of Goodman's playmaking ability, and the switch to the 4-3 should allow him to shed a little weight and return more to his sophomore year form, when he was able to apply pressure off the edge.
Last, I think it's important to really keep expectations for this year in check. This team lost its top defensive tackle, top pass rusher, top linebacker and all four starters in the secondary. On the other side of the ball, the top 5 wide receivers/tight ends from last year are gone (including our only home run threat in Tony Pierson). Several offensive linemen return, but this was the weakest unit on the team. What I'm saying is that even though we all should know better as Kansas fans than to buy into any preseason hype about a certain player or unit, this year may look bleaker than anything we've seen over the last five. All those productive guys I just mentioned could still only put together a three-win season. If this team goes 1-11 or 2-10, it will be hard not to be angry at David Beaty, but he is truly rebuilding this team. He might work out, he might not, but it's important to remember that he doesn't have the talent to field a good team this year, and that isn't his fault.
Comments? Questions? Feel free to reach out to me via email at penhawkRCT@gmail.com, or follow me on Twitter @davidpftw