Spring Game Preview

The Kansas Jayhawks host their annual spring game Saturday, which means Jayhawk Nation will get its first substantial look at the team under new head coach Charlie Weis and his staff. While the squad is far from complete - and key reinforcements will be arriving this summer with the Class of 2012 - there are still several things fans will want to focus on during the actual scrimmage.

1. The quarterbacks

This one falls into the file labeled "Blatantly Obvious," as the biggest topic around Crimson and Blue water coolers during the past month has been the progress of senior transfer Dayne Crist. Early word has been extremely positive - supposedly he's comfortable in the system and has already proven to be an invaluable resource for teammates looking to understand the many nuances of Weis' complex offensive scheme.

The offense is in a position to be able to score some points. They've got some talent at running back and wide receiver, and there's a great deal of continuity and experience along the offensive line. If Crist is able to realize his immense potential, he will be the final ingredient.

He's not the only quarterback to watch, however. As Jake Heaps will have to sit out the coming season due to transfer rules, the spring has been heavy on reps for him because they won't be there in the fall. Equally as highly-touted as Crist out of high school, the learning curve is probably a little more steep for him but he still oozes physical ability. Jayhawks fans will get a glimpse of the future of the quarterback position Saturday, and it should be fun.

2. Toben Opurum

Weis has made frequent references this spring to "the cavalry" arriving during the summer. While each position on the defense - and a few on offense - is going to receive some help, nowhere is this expected to make a greater impact than along the defensive line.

Ty McKinney, Keon Stowers and Jordan Tavai, all JUCO prospects, expect to be a major part of the rotation immediately. The one current defensive lineman who seems to have a spot assured is Opurum.

This is a big year for the senior from Dallas. It's his last as a collegiate athlete, his last chance to achieve personal and team goals, and make an impression on NFL scouts. Defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt has likened him to former Texas A&M star Von Miller in the past, and if that ability resides within Opurum it's time for it to come out.

The good news is fans should be encouraged by his progress. Not only does he have the respect of his peers, being overwhelmingly voted in as the team's defensive captain, but he wholeheartedly embraced strength coach Scott Holsopple's brutal winter strength regimen. He's bigger, stronger and faster than ever, and during an open practice last week more than held his own versus the best offensive lineman on the team - left tackle Tanner Hawkinson.

The pass rush has been virtually nonexistent during the past two years. That has to change, and change quickly, and Opurum could be the fulcrum upon which it turns.

3. Tony Pierson

The suspension of James Sims for three games a couple of weeks ago created an interesting situation in the backfield.

The junior-to-be has been the Jayhawks' leading rusher during each of the past two seasons. Solid, dependable if unspectacular, his presence should have been a steadying one.

But Tony Pierson is the most dangerous running back in the Kansas arsenal - slight of build but possessed of speed unlike that of anyone else on the team. In fact, former Phog.net writer - and current publisher of the Scout.com University of Texas affiliate - Kevin Flaherty believes him to be one of the fastest players in the entire league. And he's right.

Pierson isn't built like a workhorse, but is capable of handling more touches than he received as a freshman. Beyond that, he's versatile. How will Weis utilize him and his outstanding speed? Will he become more of a threat in the passing game? How many carries will he receive?

4. The wide receivers

Though the quarterback play has been inconsistent during the past two seasons, it's not as if the receiving corps has distinguished itself either.

Weis has praised the position during the spring, finding himself to have more capable players than he originally thought. JUCO transfer Josh Ford will provide some immediate punch at the position when he arrives, but other playmakers will have to emerge.

The most likely candidate is Daymond Patterson, back from a season-ending injury last year. Kale Pick is potentially a Jeff Samardzija type of player, and an experienced veteran in his own right. Who else will step up? D.J. Beshears? Chris Omigie? JaCorey Shepherd?

It'll have to be someone, because Crist is used to having talented targets on the receiving end of his darts.

5. Bradley McDougald

There weren't many bright spots in the Kansas secondary last season, but the one possible exception is senior safety Bradley McDougald. Big, athletic, with natural defensive instincts, he now has the coaching of Clint Bowen to aid him - the man who helped shape Darrell Stuckey and Justin Thornton into two of the top safeties in the league and NFL prospects.

McDougald has that same talent. The secondary is probably in less flux than any other defensive position, but newcomers Greg Allen, Nasir Moore and Tyree Williams are all candidates to play immediately. Allen, a big and extremely fast freshman from Houston, could even challenge for a starting spot.

But McDougald will be a mainstay, and his experience will help calm turbulent waters early. And it will only have benefited him to take on competition the like of Crist and Heaps every day in practice.


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