Big 12 Preview: Kansas Jayhawks

The 2003 edition of the Kansas Jayhawks took a big step forward by winning six games and earning a trip the Tangerine Bowl. In 2004, the schedule gets much tougher and the Jayhawks will be breaking in some new bodies on both offense and defense. Will KU be able to continue to improve and show that they can compete with the conference heavyweights?

Offense
The offense will have a different look to it this year as the ‘Hawks lost record-setting QB Bill Whittemore to graduation. The competition to fill his shoes will be between junior college transfer Jason Swanson and second year incumbent Adam Barmann. Barmann will have the early edge as he has starting experience.

Look for KU to run the ball more this year as the new quarterback learns the offense. Clark Green is primary halfback, but sophomore John Randle will see his share of snaps as well.

The strength of the offense is clearly the wide receivers. Mark Simmons, Brandon Rideau, and Moderick Johnson return to form a very talented group of wideouts and will give the new quarterback plenty of options downfield.

The offensive line is the biggest question at this point. The interior of the line is strong, headed by 2003 offensive newcomer of the year Joe Vaughn and flanked by guards Bob Whitaker and Tony Coker. However, the Jayhawks lost both starting tackles to graduation. Slated to take their spots are Air Force Academy transfer Matt Thompson and redshirt freshman Cesar Rodriguez.

KU will be successful on offense if Matt Thompson and Cesar Rodriquez come in and solidify the line, the new quarterback gets comfortable quickly running the offense, and the running game has some success to open up the passing game.

Defense
On defense, the Jayhawks struggled last year to find an identity, as either a blitzing, pressure defense or a zone coverage unit. Neither one worked particularly well as the defense gave up a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns. Fortunately, some new faces have arrived in Lawrence and could make an impact very quickly.

The defensive line will be anchored by senior Travis Watkins, who missed almost the entire last season with a foot injury. Other players vying for playing time at defensive tackle include Tim Allen, Chris Brant, and incoming freshman James McClinton. McClinton may be a starter from Day 1. Don't be surprised to see another incoming freshman, Todd Haselhorst, on the field early and often at defensive tackle. Newcomers Jermail Ashley and Charlton Keith will join David McMillan and John McCoy at defensive end.

The strength of the defense lies in the linebackers. The Jayhawks return all three starters in Gabe Toomey, Banks Floodman, and Nick Reid. Kevin Kane and Brandon Perkins saw plenty of time last year as well. Joining this deep group will be freshman Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen. Toomey, who struggled with injuries last year, is the captain of the defense.

The weakness remains the secondary. They'll receive a boost, however, from sophomore Charles Gordon. Gordon made his mark last year on offense, but is likely moving to cornerback after a very impressive spring performance. The defense will be successful if the defensive lineman takes up blockers so the linebackers can get after the ball. This will improve play throughout the defense as this allows the secondary room to breathe and allows the linebackers to roam freely.


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