2003 Football: Position by Position (Part 1)

A look at the impending season, including comments from Coach Mangino.

There's little mystery why Kansas won just two games in Mark Mangino's first season as KU head football coach. Succinctly put, the Jayhawk defense was dreadful.

Kansas ranked last defensively in the Big 12 Conference in 2002, allowing an average of 472.4 yards and 42.2 points per game.

Mangino and his staff, clearly fed up with surrender-monkey d, recruited what they hope will be immediate help, inking nine defensive players in February from junior colleges.

Can all those new faces--plus the returners, who have been in Mangino's boot camp for a full year now--take the KU D from dreadful to dreaded? Well, it won't be for lack of focus on anyone's part: In spring drills, Mangino preached defense as his top priority.

"We want to be a more aggressive, physical, faster defensive unit," Mangino said. "I believe strongly that you win championships with defense. The more that your defense can go out and force the other team's offense to three plays and out, that means that there are more opportunities for your offense to get the ball."

Of course, things weren't that much better on offense a season ago. Kansas ranked 11th in the conference in scoring (20.7 points per game) and last in total offense (316.8 yards per game). Matters further declined in the last three games, when the Jayhawks were without quarterback Bill Whittemore who had sustained a season-ending knee injury at Missouri.

Whittemore's knee is recovered, and the 2002 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year will be back at the controls when KU kicks off the season Aug. 30 against Northwestern, but can the Jayhawks protect their leader with a frontline composed primarily of newcomers?

Even after a productive spring, Mangino really doesn't know precisely how the Jayhawks' two-deep roster will look at August's end because of all the transfers (and even, in some cases, freshmen) who are expected to compete for playing time.

He does see his program is making progress, however.

"The kids last year gave effort," Mangino said. "This (year so far) is truly a Big 12 effort. I've said a number of times, we haven't spent any time coaching effort.

"Last spring we had to coach effort. We had to get our players to develop good work habits on the practice field and in the weight room. And it takes time when you have a new coach. But the kids that are with us right now have got a tremendous work ethic. It is one of the hardest-working ball-clubs I've been around in terms of work ethic. They come everyday, ready to go, very few problems, no whining, no 'this is too hard, this is too tough,' we don't hear those things that maybe we heard a year ago.

"Now last year's club worked hard. This club here works much harder and smarter too. They understand our systems, they know what we want, they know what the expectations are. So it's a whole new level of attitude. I think our kids really understand how to work and how to make themselves better players and work to develop a good ball team."

This summer, all of KU's veteran scholarship players remained on campus working out with the strength staff, in Kansas' new state-of-the-sport facility, and a healthy batch of newcomers were in Lawrence as well. Four days a week, the players worked on weight training, physical conditioning, speed and explosion exercises and change-of-direction drills.

"That tells me," Mangino said, "that our players truly care about improving."

As we look briefly at KU, position by position, let's begin with the defensive side of the ball, where Mangino is stressing aggressiveness.

"You coach hustle, and our defensive coaches do that," he said. "For example, in the secondary we are tired of seeing a guy catch the ball and then somebody trying to tackle them. We are going to contest the pass. We are going to work on being a gap-assignment team on the defensive front--fill the gaps, know your angles, know your jobs and play with toughness.

"We can't have linebackers sitting back and waiting for the ball to come to them. We need to go get the football and that is all part of that mental toughness. It can be done. It can be coached. I have seen it coached over the years, and we will do that."

Check back for part 2 of this article.

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