Sure, coaches spend some of this time prepping for their opponent. But, by-and-large, it's a chance to prepare for the future. Coaches give talented youngsters a chance to run with the ones while also taking time to try out a few experimental position changes.
Here are five position experiments that I feel would drum up some interesting results. Players are listed by their current positions:
1) Anthony Webb, cornerback
Webb spent the 2007 season buried on the bench behind several young players at cornerback before finding a niche as KU's punt returner. But with Aqib Talib likely to return punts against Virginia Tech, and return man extraordinaire Daymond Patterson on campus next year, Webb could see that role vanish as well. Webb is too good an athlete to sit the bench, but he may not have the hips to stay at cornerback, especially with even more talented youngsters like Isiah Barfield looking to play next year. There are two choices here: one is that Webb takes his lanky build, quickness and hands to offense, where he could compete for the outside receiver position opposite Dezmon Briscoe. The second would be to move Webb to free safety, where he could battle for a spot in passing situations. Webb played safety some in high school to keep the game in front of him, when he can use his quickness to break to the ball, rather than playing a receiver. Webb might have to play more physically to play safety, but he's definitely capable. Receiver may be his best spot though, if his hips don't come around.
2) Ryan Murphy, wide receiver
Murphy has yet to play a down for the Jayhawks, but he, along with all of the other slot receiver candidates, faces an uphill battle for playing time. Slot receivers for next year include Dexton Fields and Kerry Meier, who started there this year, Raimond Pendleton, Xavier Rambo, Rell Lewis, Murphy and incomer Patterson. Patterson lacks the size to play defense, and Pendleton, Rambo and Lewis are all primarily offensive players. Meanwhile, Murphy has both the talent, and the physicality to make an impact either at cornerback or at safety. He played safety in high school and excelled there, while he made some all-combine teams for his performance shutting down highly rated wide receivers as a cornerback in the summer camp circuit. Keep in mind, this isn't any indication that Murphy can't play, or can't succeed at wide receiver. But it doesn't make sense to stockpile that many quality athletes at one position.
3) Bradley Dedeaux, tight end
Again, this switch doesn't completely have to do with Dedeaux's talent level at tight end. But Kansas has three players committed to play tight end next year in Tanner Hawkinson, Tim Biere and Nick Plato. Plato could eventually play defense, but he has said KU recruited him on the offensive side of the ball. It's hard to justify having four tight ends in an offense that only plays one at a time, or two in short-yardage situations. That means the odd man out may be Dedeaux, who could make an excellent defensive end. He spent some time there in the spring and showed potential, but was moved back to offense and made his way to second on the depth chart behind Derek Fine at tight end. The Jayhawks are bringing in several players at defensive end as well, but with Dedeaux's strength and quickness, he could make an immediate play for time at that spot, potentially supplying a pass-rushing presence to a position looking for one.
4) Steven Foster, fullback
Foster came to Kansas as the fullback heir apparent to Brandon McAnderson with strength, a wrestler's toughness and agility and surprising acceleration. But if we learned one thing from this year's demonstration of Ed Warinner's offense, it's that this offense doesn't often use a fullback – just a single back. Sure, Kansas achieved success by combining a power back and a speed back together, but Kansas has multiple runners who could fill that power void already in Angus Quigley and 200-pound Carmon Boyd-Anderson. Olaitan Oguntodu has also practiced with the runners this year. That's not counting any recruits the Jayhawks might bring in. So where might Foster be needed? With his size, speed, quickness and toughness, Foster could help to supply needed depth to Kansas's linebacking corps. Foster could play either on the outside or the inside, giving the Jayhawks a versatile swing player who could team with Drew Dudley and Justin Springer to give a nice young base to build on.
5) Mike Rivera, linebacker
This is the smallest experiment listed here in terms of position change. Kansas's main defensive weakness comes from a lack of a pass rush. But Rivera could help change that with a switch to the Bandit position in passing situations. A devastating blitzer with explosive burst for his 255-pound size, Rivera could move around to exploit mismatches along the line and give the Jayhawks a trump card against passing teams. With teams like Texas Tech and Oklahoma on the 2008 schedule, the pass rush could be key again next year and Rivera could create the havoc Kansas needs on key third-down plays.