KU fills a need for speed

The S-word – speed – came up a lot at KU football coach Turner Gill's 2011 signing day news conference Wednesday afternoon.

I mean, a lot.

"Speed is the number one thing to be addressed at every position and we did that," a relaxed Gill said from the Mrkonic Auditorium podium. "We were very, very fortunate and blessed this year that we had a lot of numbers, as far as having 27 scholarships. That's probably not going to happen again."

From places you'd expect speed – like wide receiver and defensive back – to places where it used to be a luxury – like offensive line – Gill used the word like it was going to be outlawed tomorrow in describing his impressive class of 26 high school players and one junior college transfer.

"Explosiveness" – acceleration, speed in short bursts – ran a close second, but speed was the magic word.

Eleven states are represented in this year's class. Of the 27 signees, four – OL Dylan Admire; QB Brock Berglund; DE Julius Green and RB Darrian Miller – are already enrolled on The Hill.

More signees come from Texas than any other state (nine). Kansas produced seven new Jayhawks.

Gills said his first priority was recruiting speed and depth.

"I know we accomplished that," he said. "We made every single position competitive; there will be competition at every single spot."

He took an "outside-in" approach to recruiting linemen, something he picked up from his old mentor, Dr. Tom Osborn, as well as some of his counterparts across the country. It's designed to – you guessed it – make those groups faster.

On the offensive line, Gill said, "We tried to go into this trying to get mostly tackles, from a frame size. Then, if they didn't have the mobility enough to handle speed rushers, then we'll move 'em inside. Then, if maybe a guy doesn't get as big, then we end up having that person move in to center."

He was very pleased with his six offensive line signees, citing that he and his staff has landed players who could fill multiple positions, thanks to their athleticism, good footwork and ability to quickly change direction.

On defensive line, it all starts at the ends.

Gill explained, "I wanted to get defensive ends. Then, if those guys can get bigger, then I'm going to move them inside. They get anywhere from 275 to 285, we can move them inside. Then, they also have the pass rushing ability to move them inside and we can match 'em up possibly on a guard."

Speed on defense, Gill says, creates havoc, and havoc creates turnovers, something KU's defense didn't do last year.

Linebacker was also a priority for the Kansas coaches this off-season. Last year's injuries quickly turned the Jayhawks paper-thin at that position, so quantity was nearly as important as quality.

Gill said he is pleased with his incoming group of five, and I learned a new football term in the process.

"That was an area where we def were serious on trying to get some speed and get quite a few people in here," Gill said. "They also can run and have the speed and explosiveness. They can go from sideline-to-sideline, they can splatter people, they can knock the ball out. They've done it many, many times."

Splatter. I like it.

Two new quarterbacks – Berglund and Michael Cummings – will help generate competition at a position that desperately needs a spark. Gill was confident that these two new very capable bodies would do just that.

He said, "They're explosive, they can make plays with their legs and they can make plays with their arms."

Gill said that players like Berglund who graduated early and were already on campus had a slight advantage over their May graduating peers because they'd have six extra months on campus, in the weight room and in KU's system under their belts. However, just because a freshman doesn't arrive until August doesn't mean much. Gill plans to play a bunch of them this fall.

"I'll probably play 15 or 16 (of 27). They may not be a starter, initially, but I'm planning on having guys play and hopefully they'll continue to mature and help us get better. They're also going to help us on special teams, and then as they continue to get better, they'll be better for us on offense or defense as we move along," he said.

More than helping the Jayhawks get better, Gill said he's got some freshmen who have the potential to be impact players as freshman, and he's not going to hesitate to use them. He's not quite ready to name names, though.

"To sit here and say which one – you we can say one here, and something may not work. But we're going to be giving quite a few people the opportunity to come in here and play," the coach said.

Gill pointed out that 23 of the 27 players signed had participated in state high school playoff games the last two years. Of those 23, 14 went on to win state championships. That winning attitude and the drive to compete and be successful, Gill hopes, will translate to a rebuilding Jayhawk program.

Now that he's secured a good recruiting class for his second season, he said it's up to him and his staff to pull all that talent together. He encouraged patience, but he also assured KU fans that they can expect to see tangible improvement in their football team.

"Obviously, it's going to take some time to get some experience to play at this next level. Just like at any school, it's probably going to be two or three years before you really see it. But there's hopefully gonna be a handful of guys who are difference-makers next year, and they're going to rise to the occasion and make plays at the University of Kansas."


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