No great season in any sport is possible without guys who make bigplays. Kansas’ record-setting 12-1 season – complete with a 2008 Orange Bowl victory over #5-ranked Virginia Tech – last year was no exception.
In the past, though, football success at Kansas meant that a small
nucleus of playmakers had come together, only for graduation to signal
a return to business as usual: 4-7 records and counting the days till
Clearly, Jayhawks head coach Mark
Mangino and his staff have raised the
talent level at perennial punching bag KU, and the result has been bowl
eligibility in four of Mangino’s six seasons as head coach.
But will that talent boost be enough, especially with the tough stops
in the Big 12 South finding their way onto Kansas’ schedule?
How well will a once-woeful KU program that suddenly finds itself
saddled with expectations replace last year’s playmakers?
Quite well, it would appear.
Early in his career, WR Henry took a lot of heat for dropping passes he
should have caught. By the time he was a senior, Marcus Henry became
one of the Jayhawks’ most reliable receivers, sure-handed and
always a candidate to turn in a big play. Just ask the Oklahoma State
defensive secondary. Henry racked up 54 catches, 1,014 receiving yards
and 10 TDs last season. His experience helped bring around a young
group that included wide receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Dexton Fields,
who were KU’s #1 and #3 receivers in 2007.
Wilson meets KU offensive coordinator Ed Warriner’s wide
receiver profile to a tee: a rangy guy who can go up and bring the ball
down, good decision-maker, surprisingly strong and fast. At 6-3, 187,
Wilson will probably surprise some KU fans who expect to see returning
veterans Fields and Briscoe get all the looks. The sophomore from
Houston is a hungry player who saw Big 12 action last season and will
provide another sure set of hands to KU’s potent offense.
Lawrence’s own Brandon McAnderson went from blocking back to
feature back his senior year and stepped up big-time. B-Mac averaged
nearly 6 yards per carry on the way to 1,125 yards and 16 TDs in 2008.
He didn’t put the ball on the turf and took a great deal of
satisfaction out of putting a shoulder into someone just to make them
think twice about tackling him the next time. McAnderson’s
work ethic and refusal to be tackled made him model of toughness and
desire for the entire squad.
Crawford comes to KU as the national junior college offensive player of
the year and a juco All-American from Cisco Junior College (Texas).
Crawford ran for 1,935 yards his sophomore year on 283 carries (6.8
yards per) while logging five 200-yard games, including a 328-yard
effort. He is the kind of big (6-1, 230) bruising runner KU has wanted
for years, but you won’t see him getting caught from behind,
thanks to a ton of speed. Crawford has legitimate star potential in the
The AP All-American corner from Texas was a crowd favorite for his
ability to break up passes, his size and strength (6-2, 205) and a
flair for the dramatic. He took some shots his junior year, often
finding himself on an island against the opposing team’s best
receiver, but he still led the team with 13 passes broken up. His
legacy, though, will be high-stepping into the Orange Bowl end zone
after picking off Virginia Tech Sean
Glennon and taking the ball back
Harper (5-9, 190) came to Kansas as a junior college transfer and
missed six games due to injury last year. He made his debut as a
Jayhawk in week five in Manhattan and endeared himself to KU fans by
intercepting a Josh
Freeman pass in the win. When he was healthy, he
was the kind of defensive back that keeps a receiver’s head
on a swivel; he likes to hit with malice and aforethought.
He’s already got a big-play mentality; now the challenge is,
can he stay healthy and on the field?
also deserves mention here. The 6-0, 180 sophomore was
pressed into duty last year and started 10 of 13 games at the corner,
splitting time with Harper. If Harper gets hurt or gets off to a slow
start, you may see Harris sliding into this spot.
McClinton was a 2007 2nd-team AP All-American, Big 12 defensive lineman
of the year and a 1st-team all-conference performer with an innate
ability for blowing up plays before they ever really got started. KU
linebackers Mike Rivera,
and James Holt
need to make sure
McClinton is on their Christmas card list because he made them look
good all season long. Off the field, he was the consummate leader and
teammate. Prior to the Baylor
game, while his teammates played video
games, listened to their iPods or took a nap, McClinton read his Bible.
You never needed to worry about James McClinton showing up on the
Johnson was on the two-deep prior to the 2007 season until the decision
was made to redshirt him. Kansas coaches may look at that decision
later and talk about how glad they are they get him for another year.
He’s 6-4, 279, so he’s rangier (there’s
that word again) than McClinton. He was the 2007 scout team defensive
player of the year for the Jayhawks, so he has a ton of ability. Like
McClinton, he has the instinctive ability to jump the ball like he
knows the snap count. In spring practices, he showed an array of pass
rushing moves which may allow KU to pressure the QB more consistently.
Finally, like McClinton, his coaches love him because he never, ever
takes a play off.
If ever you could call an offensive lineman a playmaker, Anthony
Collins would be it. He was good enough to be a fourth-round pick of
the Cincinnati Bengals, an AP 1st-team All-American and an
all-conference 1st-teamer. Collins’ massive frame (6-6, 308),
speed and attitude enabled him to log more pancakes than IHOP in 2007.
He was probably best known, though, for giving unsuspecting teammates a
congratulatory pummeling in the end zone after a touchdown. Kansas QB
was the heart of the KU offense in 2007, but Anthony
Collins was the soul.
Spikes is another redshirt freshman expected to make a big impact this
season, and why not? At 6-6, 314, he’s slightly bigger than
Collins. His speed and strength are comparable, and he emerged from
spring ball as one of two tackles – along with veteran Matt Darton
– who is thought to be the best man to protect
Reesing. Mangino says Spikes may be the best offensive lineman
he’s had at Kansas before all is said and done.
That’s high praise from a coach who holds his cards close to
his black velour Adidas warm-up jacket.
Mark Mangino is constantly reminding fans and the media that his team
is a “work in progress,” and one of this
year’s yardsticks will be how this year’s Jayhawks
respond to losing established stars like Henry, McClinton and Collins.
The 2008 season will tell KU fans a lot about players like Jeff Spikes
and Jocques Crawford.
It will also tell the Jayhawk faithful a lot about the state of the
Kansas Football program. Perennial powers don’t rebuild; they
reload. We’ll have a pretty good idea by mid-October if KU
has turned the corner or whether 2007 was just lightning in a bottle.
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