Today marks the beginning of spring football at KU. This is often no more than a footnote in the KU sports calendar for most fans as it usually coincides with the wrapping up of the Big 12 Conference basketball schedule and the heating up of the championship season for the same. Why would fans pay attention to an annually underperforming football team when the basketball team is again gearing up for a run at two (regular and tournament) conference championships, and another run at an NCAA tournament championship? I get it. I am looking at the basketball team expectantly, but I am looking forward to spring football this year. Not because I am a masochist, as some of my friends have accused me of being in the past, but because as you all know, there is hope for big things on the football field in the fall. And to succeed in the fall, it is important to make strides in developing and evaluating players during spring football. Here are five questions I would like if not answered at least make strides to answer over the course of spring football.
Defensive tackle depth, do we have any?
Defense is where most fans are looking for improvement in 2023. In my opinion, the defensive tackles are where the most improvement needs to happen. Why? Well, the guys with the most significant playing time last season are gone. Out are Caleb Sampson, Sam Burt, and Eddie Wilson. They were the top three players for snaps played in 2022 with 610, 428, and 354 respectively. Their obvious replacements for this season’s team are Caleb Taylor, Tommy Dunn, and DJ Withers. They had 197, 189, and 186 snaps respectively in 2022. I am not necessarily seeing improvement from what KU had last season, but they will have another season under their belts and I hope to see improvement.
My real concern is what happens if/when we start to get banged up at this position, or when guys just need a rest during the game. First, I look to new blood in the program and senior transfer Devin Phillips and sophomore transfer Gage Keyes. How quickly can they get up to speed and be contributors to the team? They will be needed this fall. Spring will be an important time for them to make strides to be significant contributors in the fall. Second, we will have to look to returning seniors Jelani Arnold and Ronald McGee who saw 17 and 11 snaps last season. Will we see them make the step up to big contributors in 2023? If the defense is going to be better, it needs to start with the defensive tackles. They need to replace a lot of snaps from 2022.
Who is replacing Lonnie Phelps, Jr.?
Lonnie was a big pickup for the coaching staff last season to replace Kyron Johnson. Can they do it again this cycle? They have brought in super senior Patrick Joyner to fill the hole, if not the stats. I think the hope is to use Joyner as a stop-gap for this position this season so younger guys on the roster can start to take over the spot in the 2024 season. But for that plan to pay off, Joyner needs to start well this spring.
What is happening with the running backs behind Devin Neal?
Devin Neal is the unquestioned number one running back. But the Ky Thomas experiment did not work and Danial Hishaw, Jr. had his second season cut short by a significant injury. Enter Georgia Tech via Buffalo transfer Dylan McDuffie. He takes the scholarship spot Thomas vacated when he transferred. Is McDuffie at KU to be a direct replacement for the role the coaching staff envisioned Ky Thomas filling? He did rush for over 1000 yards at Georgia Tech. If so, what does that say about the future of Sevion Morrison and Danial Hishaw? It will be interesting to hear what the buzz is around this position during and after spring practice.
Placekicking has to be better, right?
It was obvious going into the 2022 season, KU’s kickers were not great. One of my preseason predictions was this deficiency would not ultimately hurt the team. Though it was painful to watch at times, I think in the end the kicking woes did not ultimately cost us a game directly. But there needs to be an improvement in this area for 2023.
To that end, the coaching staff brought in two kickers during the fall/winter transfer window, one for next season, Seth Keller, and one for the future Charlie Weinrich. Additionally, KU added Lawrence native freshman Grant Glasgow. Keller should be the placekicker in 2023 giving Weinrich and Glasgow time to develop for the future. The question is what happens to Jacob Borcila and to a lesser extent Owen Piepergerdes? Owen did a nice job kicking when the coaching staff finally made the move, and he can compete for the job in 2024. Borcila on the other hand never had it last season, and the coaching staff has brought in several players that look set to push him out. Will all of this mean KU will be better at kicking next season? Spring will begin to sort all of this out.
Why is Jason Bean back for the 2023 season?
Do not get me wrong, I am happy he is back, he help the offense hold together and got KU the win they need to become bowl eligible. I am asking why did he decide to return after all indications were he was leaving. The guy participated in the senior day celebration and got a really cool framed jersey and everything.
With his return, there has been chatter online that KU has one of the best quarterback rooms in the Big 12, and this may be true. But did Jason come back to be the backup to Jalon Daniels again? To be there in case Daniels gets hurt again. Is he still enjoying college life enough to come back for one more year? Maybe this is the explanation, and I cannot blame him, why move on if you do not have to?
What if the reason he came back is that he still holds onto dreams of playing professional football? The XFL and UFSL need players. Could he be eyeing a future as a player in one of those leagues? If he is going to make it as a pro, even in those two leagues, I do not think he will do it as a quarterback.
If Jason has a professional football future as a player, he needs to transition to wide receiver. Yes, I still want him to be available if Jalon is going to miss significant time, but I think he should be the third option. If Ethan Vasko has made the strides it seems he has, he should be the primary backup. Jason needs to spend more time this year with the wide receivers. His speed is too much of a threat to spend significant time on the sidelines. Why not have him spell Quentin Skinner as needed?
So I ask again, why is Jason Bean back for his super senior season? No matter the answer, the offensive staff has an asset they can use, why not use it as a wide receiver instead of letting it go to waste waiting for what you hope will not happen, Jalon Daniels getting hurt? I will be interested to see if he starts to get more time on the field playing a different position.
So those are my initial question heading into spring football. What questions do you have about the football team going into spring football?