It’s time for another edition of the roundtable! In each edition, our staff gets together to look at two questions about the Kansas Jayhawks that are being talked about by those who follow the program. Take a look at our answers, and then give us your own in the comments below.
What is the biggest area of weakness on the team to worry about this year?
David: The front seven on defense. KU is replacing almost every one of the guys who played well up front last year. An interior lineman who can lead the team in TFLs is a rare gem, and that’s exactly what they lost in Wise. Also gone is a senior leader who spent his college career racking up crazy tackling numbers in Joe Dineen. Guys like Brian Lipscomb and Keith Loneker were solid as well. It’s hard to see a program in KU’s position just plugging in new players (especially in the trenches) and not missing a beat.
Brendan: I’m in the same boat. There are so many new faces and so many tackles to replace, it’s only natural to question who is capable of stepping up to fill the gaping holes all those who graduated left behind. I’m excited to see what some of the freshmen can do (Gavin Potter and Steven Parker, specifically) but it looks like there are a lot of question marks up front entering the year.
Mike: Once again, you guys aren’t wrong. But, college football is all about quarterback play, and the biggest thing that can help out a quarterback is having a not-terrible offensive line. If MacVittie/Stanley are going to be effective at all, they’ll need the offensive line to do things like not fall down on screen passes.
Fizzle: Anytime you take a team with that many seniors like we had last year and throw in a new coach to boot there are going to be some growing pains, especially when the old coach didn’t recruit a single new player last year. This is going to be a rough year.
Kyle: I’m with Mike in that if we’re talking about what is causing worry, I’m going with the quarterback. Front seven is probably weaker, especially if MacVittie lives up to any of the hype. We just have yet to see it and bad quarterback play is so debilitating to an offense and ruins any chance of winning football games.
Andy: I wanted to be different and interesting and say something like the wide receivers, but I'm just not able to get past the front seven, but specifically the linebackers. Kansas relied so much on that second level of the defense to stop the run and to keep the short passing game from eating them alive. Can anyone step up and fill the shoes ofall the guys they lost? I'm not so sure, but hopefully I'm wrong.
Conversely, what is the biggest area of strength for this team?
David: The ground game. Pooka is a legit star, and Herbert is a capable Big 12 talent. There are, of course, questions on the O-line, but they showed some ability to open holes in the run game last year before defenses started loading up the box (and even occasionally after). Most of the line returns. If the coaches and QB play can find a way to keep defenses from zeroing in on Pooka, the run game should have success this year.
Brendan: It’s weird to say, given the play we’ve seen back there over the years, but the secondary should be the strongest part of the defense, at least. Veteran experience is the biggest factor in that too. The trio of seniors can all be productive (hand up, I never thought I’d say that about Bryce Torneden early in his career), and we know that Corione Harris has a ton of talent.
Mike: Not only is Pooka a legit star, he’s a legit dark horse Heisman candidate (for 2020, probably). The running back position is definitely KU’s best spot, as they’ve got at least two backs who I’d put up against almost anyone in the country. The problem the secondary will have is if the front seven isn’t productive, so even though (we think) we know what we’ve got in the defensive backfield, we may not see much production from them.
Fizzle: Agreed with everyone else. Pooka is the star of this team. I think coaching is a strength now. It has been a negative for so long that having a capable coach in place is going to be huge.
Kyle: There’s no need to reiterate Pooka’s star power again so I’ll add that depth is also a bonus at running back. I like Herbert’s game and even Dom Williams as a third back averaged 4.2 yards per rush on 55 carries last year. Going three deep is key not only week 1 when Pooka is out, but also as a security blanket in case of injury.
Andy: It's hard to pick anything other than RB or the defensive secondary, so despite me wanting to be different and picking something like Special Teams, I'm going to be boring and go with the secondary. As I mentioned in our senior spotlight articles, Torneden and Mike Lee are the two highest-rated returning safeties in the Big 12, and Hassan Defense and Harris should be solid on the corners. The only real question is the depth, since it's not likely that those 4 will be on the field for every snap. But Elmore Hempstead, Kyle Mayberry, Elijah Jones, Shaquille Richmond, DeAnte Ford and others should provide solid depth.