While expectations aren’t very high this year for the Kansas Jayhawks, they will still field a team. And as always, there will be some areas of improvement and some areas of strength. In today’s roundtable, we look at those.
Previous Editions of the Roundtable:
What is the one area of the team you are least worried about this year?
CryingJordanMan: Running back. KU has talent and depth here. I’d like to see the coaches find new ways to get these guys the ball in space (cough cough bring back the shovel pass cough cough) but RB should continue being a strength of this team.
Mike.Plank: Yup, running back it is. I think Andy has a man crush on Taylor Martin because he mentioned him like 55 times in the last podcast, but Martin is probably the fourth-most talented RB on this roster. Junior Khalil Herbert should be a shoe-in for the #1 spot after averaging 5.5 ypc on 120 carries last year, and sophomore Dom Williams was the prize of the 2017 recruiting class. Meanwhile, freshman Anthony “Pooka” Williams was the Louisiana High School Player of the Year in 2017. So yeah - not worried about running backs. The question is if the coaches will be willing to actually utilize the talent they have there or if they’re still committed to throwing 42 bubble screens per game.
David: Running back is probably the right answer, but to shake things up, I’ll say the middle of the front seven. Daniel Wise is a legit all-conference talent in the middle, and JJ Holmes racked up 24 tackles from the DT spot last year. Joe Dineen at MLB may the best player on the team. The run defense was the closest thing to a bright spot on that side of the ball last year, and those guys returning should hopefully keep it a relative strength.
Andy Mitts: Spoiler tags, Mike! And while Herbert was the most consistent back last year, Martin was the most explosive. Yes, running back is the obvious answer, but I’ll go with another offensive skill position in wide receiver. Steven Sims Jr. is a legitimate #1 guy, and the rest of the group is nice mix of experienced guys and athletic newcomers. Yes we haven’t really seen too much overall from the group, but it’s fairly easy to attribute most of that to poor QB play.
Mike.Plank: Andy, I don’t know what football games you watched last year, but Martin had just 30 carries less than Herbert and only averaged 3.2 ypc with a long of 19. When I think of “explosive” that’s not what comes to mind.
Andy Mitts: Huh, somehow I mixed up Herbert and Martin. I’ll have to listen back to the tape to clarify.
Mike.Plank: I now feel vindicated. Tis a good feeling.
Kyle_Davis21: They’ve nailed it, the answer is running back. But to not sound too much like a broken record, I’ll use this spot to share optimism around a guy only Mike has mentioned so far: Dom Williams. Not only did he average 3.5 yards per carry and found the end zone three times in 51 carries as a freshman, but he was also the best back catching the ball out of the backfield, averaging seven yards per catch, which is an area KU needs to utilize more.
Jakebogen95: RB. I love Khalil Herbert. I really don’t think the Jayhawks have a worry at RB. Taylor Martin and Dom Williams make this a good looking and deep unit.
Where is the biggest improvement coming over last year’s squad?
CryingJordanMan: I think it could be at DB. Mike Lee and Hasan Defense are both a year older and the addition of Corione Harris (plus everyone else being a year older) could help this unit take a step forward.
Mike.Plank: The secondary is a good answer and probably the obvious one, so just to be different I’ll say quarterback. Peyton Bender and Carter Stanley each completed just 54% of their passes last year, with a combined 14/17 TD/INT ratio. If they can get that completion percentage up into the 60s, it would not only help the offense stay on the field but give KU a chance to compete in more games in 2018.
David: I mixed things up with my last answer, so I’ll go with the flow here. Hasan Defense showed flashes of legitimate ability last year, and we all know how good Mike Lee can be. As a four star recruit, Corione Harris has the potential to start opposite Hasan Defense. Shaquille Richmond came on late last year too, starting the last few games. Torneden is a hard hitter, and if his coverage skills take a step forward, KU’s secondary might just be alright.
Andy Mitts: My answer says a lot more about how poorly they played last year instead of how great they are going to be this year. I’m talking about the offensive line. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting any of these guys to be all-conference, but it wouldn’t take much from each of these guys individually to get a huge improvement in the unit as a whole. A mix of another year of experience and a (hopefully) better OL coach should be enough.
Kyle_Davis21: To both give a different answer and buy (relatively) low, I’ll say wide receiver. Steven Sims Jr. is obviously the No. 1 guy who I expect to be as good as usual. But the supporting cast should be better. Evan Fairs averaged 14 ypc last year, Jeremiah Booker put up similar numbers before missing the last two games with an injury and Bobby Hartzog is back after missing all but one game after redshirting. Plus the receiving corp brings in Stephon Robinson from El Camino College who racked up 1,274 yards and eight touchdowns on 62 catches.
Jakebogen95: CB. Corione Harris and another year under Mike Lee’s belt is an exciting thing. I think Harris and Lee have what it takes to be special for Kansas. I haven’t been this excited for a player commitment since Aqib Talib. Corione Harris is going to be good.
What is the one area of the team (on the field) that is going to be most crucial to the team making any strides this year?
CryingJordanMan: Offensive line. The offense is not going to take a step forward until the line drastically improves. KU has proven talent at RB and WR plus two experienced QBs. If the line can get to decent status and give the backs holes and QBs time to throw, KU could start scoring some points. We saw what happens when we successfully run-block against West Virginia.
Mike.Plank: In this case, the obvious answer is the only answer, and that, of course, is the offensive line. With a new offensive line coach in MU alum AJ Ricker, I can’t say that I’m optimistic, but, it would be hard for the line to be any worse than last year. In fact, maybe goal #1 should be to stay off of ESPN’s “Come on, Man!” segment.
David: Quarterback. I get the argument for the O-line, but one of the supposed advantages of the air raid is that the ball comes out quick, which should help neutralize weakness in the line. The line needs to improve too, but QB play is huge. Bender seems to have the arm talent, but froze up and/or immediately checked down far too often. Stanley is lacking arm strength and is inconsistent. Someone needs to step up, make the right reads and get the ball out for the passing game (and the offense overall) to show improvement.
Andy Mitts: I don’t think the answer is as obvious as everyone is making it seem. Sure the offense is going to have to get it going, but the defense was absolutely abysmal last year too, especially at giving up the big play. The real key to being competitive is to get much better play from the defensive secondary. We have to limit the big plays so that our offense doesn’t have to go out and play hero ball with huge scoring drives every single time they have the ball.
Kyle_Davis21: I’m going to agree with David. We just talked about how great the running attack should be, and Steven Sims is a stud. But that’s all for naught if someone, likely Bender or Stanley, doesn’t step up and makes strong decisions and keeps defenses honest. Strong quarterback play so often hides other deficiencies, and that’s especially true in an offensive-minded league like the Big 12. Kansas won’t be getting in many defensive chess matches, so it has to find ways to score points and win shootouts.
Jakebogen95: I recently previewed the QB room and I gotta tell you, I like it. It’s not top notch but I really like the upside of Miles Kendrick and Peyton Bender as the starter. However, whoever starts whether it’s Carter Stanley or one of the other guys won’t matter until the OL gets it together. Long gone are the days of having a stalwart tackle in Anthony Collins. We need to see major improvement out of the offensive line.
Andy Mitts: Thanks to all the crew for suffering through even more painful football talk! We’ll be back with another installment next month.