Gill guarded, still assessing his team

Anyone who attended first-year Kansas football coach Turner Gill's 2010 media day news conference expecting startling new insight into the team probably went home a little disappointed.

That's understandable, though. Other than the recruits he hurriedly signed last spring after he was hired, he's never seen any of his players in game conditions other than on tape.

His wait-and-see attitude comes not just from a lack of knowledge about his personnel but also from the fact that he wants to run a much different system than his predecessor. First, the Jayhawks are going to be less pass-happy.

"From an offensive standpoint, we're going to run the ball a little bit more," he said with some certainty. How much more, he wasn't prepared to say and wouldn't be until the quarterback, runningback and wide receiver positions had been settled.

On the other side of the ball, Kansas will be more aggressive, less soft and show a variety of looks.

Gill said, "There's not going to be a set look. We're going to base out of a four-three, but we're going to do whatever we feel like we need to do with our scheme for our players to be successful."

The new-look Jayhawks have shown improvement since Gill saw them last spring, thanks to KU's strength and conditioning staff. Gill was pleased with the physical make-up of his team through the first handful of practices.

He was also happy with the tempo practice has taken early on, thanks to conditioning and to players spending time during the summer studying their playbooks.

"We put quite a bit at them in the first few days, just to see where they're at, mentally. We wanted to stretch their minds," Gill said.

"You need to play at game speed, and you hope you do that in practice," he added.

Gill announced three injuries. WR Tertavian Ingram will miss three to four weeks with a foot injury. RB Rell Lewis will miss two to three weeks with a knee injury. The third injury is particularly problematic for an already-thin linebacker corps: Huldon Tharp will miss the entire season with a foot injury.

Gill said that while he hadn't decided whether Tharp would start as he did as a true freshman, but said, "He was gonna play," in a way that indicated the coach knew how vital Tharp was. In typical fashion, Gill said this injury has to become an opportunity for someone else to step up.

"That's the way we have to approach it: there's things that are going to happen. We're going to lose people for whatever reason, but we have to move on. We have to provide the next guy an opportunity, and the coaches got to coach that guy ready to play. The next guy's gotta go out and do the job."

Gill said "several guys" would be asked to play Tharp's position to in the coming days to see who's the best fit. He also expressed optimism coupled with a little relief when he said, "We have time (until the first game), that's the good thing."

It took a surprising amount of time before someone asked about the status of the starting quarterback sweepstakes, and when someone finally did, the coach was as cryptic as he's been since last spring.

"They're still battling. I think (Jordan) Webb and, obviously, (Kale) Pick and really even (Quinn) Mecham in the first four or five days, they all three have done some nice things."

Gill said he wanted to give his quarterbacks, two weeks of practice to see where they stand and then start making decisions. So, an announcement could be coming as soon as the end of next week.

He was happy with the improvement all three of his leading quarterback candidates have shown since spring ball.

"They've come back and are a lot sharper," Gill said. He continued, "You want to be better than you were last spring, and we have made progress."

As a former All-American QB himself, Gill has some very definite ideas of what he wants to see in his starter: poise, confident body language... he even has thoughts on how a quarterback calls a play in the huddle.

"Whenever they talk about a play in the huddle, I want to hear confidence. If they're not talking in a confident way, he ain't gonna get the other 10 guys to respond."

Gill said that confidence in the huddle extends to the entire team, including the defense and special teams.

Goals and expectations: "If you're talking about specific wins and losses and all that kind of stuff, no. We talk about specific behaviors. Specific behaviors that are going to get you to the end product. Everybody's gonna sit there are talk about, 'We gotta win this, we gotta win that,' but how do yo get to that point? How do you win every single football game? That's what we talked about, more specifically."

There wasn't news on the running back front either. It sounds like the choice is going to be interesting, but the bottom line is the starter needs to move the ball.

"We've got quite a few runningbacks that have all different types of styles," Gill said. "I don't care necessarily what the style is; I just want that guy to be a physical runner, I want him to be athletic, make people miss. And hopefully we've got a home run hitter who can take it the distance."

He cautioned that the runningbacks were still being evaluated, and that the running game would depend on who the chosen one – or ones – might be. Gill voiced a preference for a true featured back.

"If we don't have it, we'll still find a way to move the ball," the coach said, "but yeah, if I had to sit here and say exactly what I'd like to have, it's having somebody who could carry the ball 20, 25 times."

Gill's demeanor brightened when talk turned to the wide receivers. He credited coach Darrell Wyatt with the job he was doing with the receiving corps. Coach Wyatt, it should be noted, has had some fire power to work with.

"John Wilson has done some great things, running all routes," he said. "We have a solid receiving corps. These guys have shown great progress in catching the ball, making plays, getting the ball down the field. Daymond Patterson has done an outstanding job. Brad McDougald is a steady guy who's excellent. Chris Omigie done a great job, Erick McGriff, Christian Matthews. We feel we've got six or seven guys we feel very good about. This is one of the strengths about our football team."

Like the vast majority of KU fans, the KU coach has some concerns about the defense. He was careful not to be critical of his players or his predecessor, but he was quick to cite at least one concern that has surfaced.

"I want to be a faster defense, recruiting more speed at all positions. We have speed at some positions, but I want to have 14, 15 guys who can run," Gill said. "Ideally, what I'd like to see is more speed in general."

Despite that concern, he gave kudos to DEs Jake Laptad and Kevin Young – a redshirt freshman – as potential disruptive forces on the defensive line. Laptad, a senior, will likely not only be a defensive leader but a team leader this season, and Gill said Young's progress since coming to campus has been impressive.

Gill admitted that this season could be difficult because so much time will be spent assessing existing talent and needs at the same time. The crucial part of that, he said, is seeing how individual players respond on game day.

"(Evaluation's) going to take a full year, to be honest with you. Obviously, every game, you're going to be evaluating and getting information. But really, to know, in depth, about your players, on a game day and play 10, 11, 12 games, that's when you can probably get a good assessment. But I understand I've got to make decisions and we've got to go play."

He was confident, however, that the team would be ready to tee it up on Sept. 4 versus the Bison of North Dakota State.

"Our athletes have done a great job of coming together as a team. Everything is moving ahead in the right direction."


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