Although the drills were all non-contact, a few pops here and there fired the team up. It was refreshing to see teammates, in addition to the coaches, yelling words of encouragement along with instruction and pointers on missed routes and defensive assignments.
One thing the team worked on was filling the void on special teams left by PR/KR Charles Gordon. Getting the most return work in were WR’s Brian Murph, Jonathan Lamb and the team’s new #3, CB Aqib Talib, who switched to from #28. None of the three were perfect, but Murph seemed the most comfortable judging the ball. He was best at getting under the ball, setting his feet, and focusing on making the catch before taking off. The special teams unit worked on catching the ball in their gut, rather than on their chest where it can bounce off of their pads. To do this, they worked on holding footballs against the sides of their bodies with their elbows and then catching balls tossed up to them. While it won’t be easy to replace Gordon’s explosiveness, Murph will likely get the bulk of return work. Remember, he took one back for six in last year’s Fort Worth Bowl.
Speaking of special teams, even the punter looked good. Kyle Tucker, who is 6’2”, 205, is a big kid with a lot of power. He was kicking from out of the back of the end zone to 50 and seemed unbothered by defensive pressure.
There were also bright spots for the young Jayhawk defense. Only two defensive starters will return from last year (OL James McClinton and SS Jerome Kemp), so the team’s biggest challenge on that side of the ball will be its inexperience. Despite the loss of seniors Tim Allen, Charlton Keith and Jermial Ashley, the defensive line showed surprisingly good push while scrimmaging. They were able to collapse the pocket rather quickly on a handful of plays, and the coaches were forced to blow the whistle early quite a few times because the line had reached the quarterback. They just need to work on filling the holes made for the running back. Again, since they weren’t fully dressed out, it’s probable that many drills weren’t ran at full speed so it will be exciting to see how quickly the new line can get off of their blockers to take down a runner.
The core of linebackers is also young. Gone is the seniority of Nick Reid, Banks Floodman and Kevin Kane. Out of the 11 linebackers on the current roster, seven are freshman (four of them are red shirts). Eric Washington, the lone senior ‘backer, should lead the pack along with red-shirt sophomores Joe Mortensen and Mike Rivera.
The Jayhawks showed quite a bit of pass-rush, and the secondary had overall good coverage which caused most of the passes to be out to the flats or dumps across the middle to the tight end.