Jayhawk Signing Day Preview

With National Signing Day hitting tomorrow, here are some of the story lines to keep an eye on.

1)    Smooth sailing from here

The Jayhawks started off the 2008-2009 recruiting season with plenty of momentum. First, Kansas was fresh off an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech, finishing the 2007 season with a sparkling 12-1 record and a Top-10 ranking. But, perhaps even more importantly, the Jayhawks were able to show off its brand new football-only complex, one that pushed the Jayhawks into the arms race.

Both of those factors led to the Jayhawks striking early and often on the recruiting trails. The coaching staff was able to lock up players like quarterback Jordan Webb, one of the top quarterbacks on the team's board, and Prinz Kande, arguably the top recruit in the class, before July.

From that point, Kansas kept up a steady pace, and will enter Wednesday with 23 known commitments, and a 24th — Ohio athlete Bradley McDougald — expected to sign on the dotted line. Many of the commitments have been in the boat for months, and chose the Jayhawks over other offers. That means, barring any surprise defections, Signing Day should come and go without any major drama.

2)    Signing Day pickups?

The exception would be if the Jayhawks could pluck another talented player to fill out the class. Three Kansas recruits are expected to make their college choices either Tuesday or on Signing Day, including JUCO defensive ends Donnie Pritchett and DeQuin Evans. Either would make a great bookend opposite fellow JUCO transfer Quintin Woods, a defensive end from Bakersfield (Calif.) Community College.

While either of those players would be excellent pickups, the Jayhawks would likely prefer the commitment of Shane Gordon, an inside linebacker who committed earlier this recruiting season to Pittsburgh. But Gordon took a visit to Lawrence this past weekend, and has plans to announce his choice on Signing Day. With Kansas needing another linebacker in this class, the Florida native would be an excellent candidate for the 25th spot in the class, should he choose to take it.

Kansas under Coach Mark Mangino hasn't typically seen a lot of Signing Day surprises, though there have been a few late additions, including the signing of a skinny defensive end from a Minnesota JUCO named Charlton Keith, that have sent reporters scrambling to the Internet.

3)    What's next for this class?

If, for whatever reason, the Jayhawks don't fill the final spot or two in this class, there's no need to fret. Mangino has said on multiple Signing Days that he prefers to keep a scholarship or two around … just in case.

That extra scholarship can be used for players that, for whatever reason, failed to sign National Letters of Intent, or for players that are headed to play in a lower classification of college football.

The former situation worked out when a linebacker from Concord, Calif., found himself without a scholarship offer late in the 2004 recruiting cycle, thanks to a coaching change at Nebraska. With no team to call home, Joe Mortensen took a trip to Kansas and signed with the Jayhawks a week or two after Signing Day. The rest, as they say, is history. A three-year starter, Mortensen made First-Team All-Big 12 as a junior.

Kansas found a player in the latter position who worked out nearly as well. Marcus Henry was on his way to play small school football when the Kansas coaching staff scouted an Oklahoma all-star game and discovered the lanky 6-foot-4 wideout. Soon after, he had a Kansas offer and elected to become a Jayhawk. Henry saw significant time as a true freshman and topped the 1,000-yard mark as a senior in 2007. That year, Henry was named to the Big 12 second team.  

4)    Filling needs

With Big 12 spread offenses filling the air with pigskin, the Jayhawks went into this class knowing that they needed to get weapons defensively to counter that. Mission accomplished. The Jayhawks have commitments from a whopping 11 players on the defensive line and in the defensive backfield combined, and that doesn't count Jacoby Thomas, who has been told he'll play a pass-rushing role from his linebacker position.

Six of those players will make their homes in the defensive backfield, including cornerbacks Calvin Rubles, D.J. Beshears and Tyler Patmon. Safeties Prinz Kande and Dexter Linton were two of the top defensive backs in the state of Texas, while safety Darian Kelly was one of the top few players in Kansas. Kande also has the ability to play cornerback if needed.

The defensive line may be even more stocked. Woods (6-6 245) is an athletic freak who signed with Michigan out of high school. He'll be joined on the ends by Kevin Young and Tyrone Sellars, two high schoolers with high upsides. Young is already on campus. Kansas also did well at defensive tackle, landing JUCO All-American Travis Stephens and Randall Dent, who could also play at strongside defensive end. Both fit the mold of small, quick defensive tackles that have served Kansas well in the past.

The Jayhawks also had needs at quarterback (two committed), running back (two committed), wide receiver (two committed) and offensive line (three committed).

5)    Best Mangino class ever?

Expect to hear that phrase tossed around from the get-go. While it would be tough for any class to top the 2004 class in terms of on-field production, this one will certainly be Mangino's highest-touted one.

The 2004 class boasted two first-team All-Americans (Aqib Talib, Anthony Collins), a second-team All-American (James McClinton), and seven other players who earned some form of All-Big 12 mention (Mortensen, Keith, Henry, Mike Rivera, Jermail Ashley, Rodney Harris, Marcus Herford). In all, close to 75 percent of the 22-person class made an impact, including Dexton Fields, Jason Swanson, Ryan Cantrell, Todd Haselhorst, Kyle Tucker and Theo Baines.

The 2009 class will have a long way to go to reach that level of production, but it's not hard to like the raw potential. The Jayhawks under Mangino have typically settled for kids who were two inches too short, 20 pounds too light and one or two tenths on their 40-yard dash short of the big boys. Indeed, several of the players expected to be Kansas's 2009 playmakers were available because of those very factors, including Todd Reesing (too short), Jake Laptad (too light) and Dezmon Briscoe (too slow).

But this year, the Jayhawks went up against the big boys for several of their recruits, and won several of those battles. Toben Opurum, one of the country's top big backs, chose Kansas over offers from schools like Florida and Notre Dame. McDougald, should he choose Kansas, was once committed to Ohio State. Quarterback Christian Matthews picked the Jayhawks over an offer from Michigan. In all, 18 of Kansas's 23 commitments chose the Jayhawks over offers from other BCS schools.

Of course, Mangino has developed a reputation for finding diamonds in the rough, and there's a lot to like about some of the so-called sleeper prospects as well — linebacker Julian Jones could play immediately, at least on special teams, because of his fantastic size-speed combination, while running back DeShaun Sands is the type of player who excels in space — a great fit for a spread team. The coaches were also able to get a first-hand look at offensive linemen like Riley Spencer and Gavin Howard in camp over the summer, and they liked what they saw.

Nobody knows what the 2009 class will look like five years from now. But it's always fun to speculate, and, for now at least, this class brings plenty of promise.

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