Newcomers preview

Much has been made of the junior college players in the 2004 Jayhawk recruiting class, and rightly so. Several players are expected to make major impacts.

Perhaps the two most noticeable players are in the secondary. After allowing Philip Rivers to set Tangerine Bowl passing records, the secondary was due for a large upgrade in both speed and physicality. It got both with cornerback Theo Baines and safety Rodney Harris.

Both are physical for their positions and offer speed upgrades over last season's secondary. Baines has all but sealed off one cornerback spot from day one in the spring, impressing coaches right off the bat and working in the weight room.

Harris is battling Rodney Fowler for the free safety position. Harris is the faster of the two and packs a punch when he tackles, prompting Mark Mangino to say that he "knocks the snot out of people." Safeties coach Clint Bowen compares him to Kwame Lassiter.

"Both are guys so skinny that you wonder how they would get anybody down," Bowen said. "But both tackle with such pop, it's surprising."

In a 1999 survey of Kansas alumni and media, Lassiter was identified as one of the five hardest hitters in Jayhawk history despite weighing in the 170's.

Jermail Ashley and Charlton Keith should compete for defensive end positions. Keith just qualified right before the start of media day, but Mangino said he weighs in the 218-220 pound range and needs to put on weight before the season. He had seven sacks as a freshman at Minnesota.

"He can come off the edge and that is what we need. We need to be better at pass rushing off the edge and he can do that very well," siad Mangino.

"He has some ground to make up here physically and mentally, but we won't rush him."

Ashley is a high effort guy who will keep plugging away for a starting spot. With the absence of John McCoy to military duty, both will have a chance to compete right away.

A late JUCO addition, offensive lineman Matt Mann, is currently working with the second team and should earn playing time to spell what isn't a very deep offensive line, according to Nick Quartaro, offensive coordinator.

And don't forget Jason Swanson, who is currently working with the third team based on his knowledge of the offense. Quartaro said the move to put Luke in front of Swanson was because Luke had the best grasp of the offense and Swanson would know that there was constant competition. Quartaro said Swanson kept a great attitude about it and was constantly looking to get better. With Mangino's luck with quarterback injuries (seven quarterbacks in two years) Swanson should always be ready to take snaps.

But the main topic of conversation was the true freshmen. After Moderick Johnson and John Randle earned playing time as freshmen last season, the search was on to find the impact freshmen of 2004. While only two had regular playing time last season, this season could see three times that.

Gary Green, Todd Haselhorst, James McClinton, Dexton Fields, Kyle Tucker, Anthony Collins and Marcus Henry all have the potential to play THIS year. Mangino said that both Haselhorst and McClinton were two of the more impressive defensive linemen. Bowen put is more simply.

"That McClinton kid is going to be good," Bowen said.

Collins, a 6-6 250 pound freshman defensive lineman could also find time this season due to a lack of depth on the defensive line.

The depth at wide receiver took a hit with Moderick Johnson's probable non-qualification, but there are newbies waiting in the wings. 6-4 180 Moderick-clone Marcus Henry was a catch, Quartaro said. He's a bigger wide receiver who moves well and has great acceleration despite his long legs, according to Quartaro.

Dexton Fields may also be ready to step in. Quartaro said that he has the greatest understanding of the game that any new player has had since the staff has arrived at Kansas. He also has great quickness and breaks quickly in and out of his cuts.

Gary Green, running back, and Marcus Herford, quarterback, both have fantastic speed and quickness. Herford is raw and is expected to redshirt, while Green could have an impact both at running back and on special teams.

"When Gary Green gets the ball, he does some good things," said Mangino. However, the coach has not ruled out redshirting Green and wants to see more of him before making a decision.

Jim Reuber is a tough, great-receiving tight end in the Derek Fine mold, accordging to Q. Because the tight end position already has both Fine and Lyonel Anderson in place, expect Reuber to redshirt. The same goes for offensive linemen Ryan Cantrell and Scott Haverkamp, both of whom could become three year players, according to Quartaro.

Current players also have some opinions on their new teammates. Gabe Toomey said linebacker signees Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen were hard-nosed talented players who loved to hit people. But because of the depth at linebacker, both will probably redshirt, as will Aqib Talib at safety.

Despite the fact that this year's team will be more talented than last year's version, newcomers will still have an impact on the teams successes or failures. Only time will tell which newcomer will be the first to distinguish himself. Top Stories