The madness of March is winding down as football teams all across the Big 12 go back to work for spring. Drills, drills and more drills are the order of the day as college football players don their gear and go through practices.
As we turn our attention to what those practices might mean, we’ve been giving a preview of each Big 12 team and exploring the questions they’ll try to answer in the offseason.
Up next is a team that struggled mightily last season, but has a ton of talent returning, the Kansas Jayhawks.
After going 1-11 last season and 3-33 the past three seasons, it’s no secret that the picture is less than rosy for head coach David Beaty as we move into 2018.
Last season, Kansas fans hoped that an improving defense and new schemes on offense might lend themselves to more “Ws” in the win column, but an early season loss to Central Michigan was a harbinger of bad things to come.
Jayhawk fans have not been shy about their dissatisfaction with the state of the football program, with many calling for the ouster of athletic director Sheahon Zenger. In mid-March, one fan even paid to put up a billboard between Lawrence and Topeka with a quote about the football program being “the most incompetent thing..in major sports.”
It’s understandable to think things are dire for Kansas football, but Beaty will have a wealth of experience coming back in 2018. If he and his staff can make the most out of their 15 spring practices, there’s good reason to think that the team could take a few steps forward next fall. Since the Jayhawks missed out on a bowl game – and more importantly, bowl practices – the next month will be crucial for the progress of their football team.
PRACTICE BEGINS: WED, MARCH 28
SPRING GAME: SAT, APRIL 28
LOCATION: MEMORIAL STADIUM (LAWRENCE, KS)
The Jayhawks will definitely have the advantage of being the most experienced team in the Big 12 and maybe the most experienced in the country, with 20 out of 22 starters returning across the offense and defense.
Hopefully that maturity will bring with it the ability to take care of the ball better. All told, the Kansas passing offense threw it to the other team 17 times last season. In comparison, they managed only 14 touchdowns through the air. Combined with nine fumbles lost, their 26 turnovers allowed the Jayhawks to be tied for last in the Big 12 in total turnovers.
Learning to protect the football starts with the guys behind center, who have their hands on the pill on every single snap.
Kansas will have a position battle there this spring, despite having veterans in the quarterback room. Both Carter Stanely and Peyton Bender had their ups and downs last season, but neither could be said to have solidified the job.
They’ll get competition from Miles Kendrick, a three start JUCO product who enrolled with the Jayhawks in January.
Whoever gets the final nod, they’ll need protection up front. To help there, Beaty went out and hired A.J. Ricker to be the new offensive line coach. Ricker, an analyst for the last two seasons, helped guide a productive offensive line at Missouri in 2014 and 2015. He will try his hand at improving a veteran group of lineman who gave up 2.42 sacks per game last season.
Having another year to work in Doug Meacham’s Air Raid offense should also pay dividends. In 2017, players like running back Khalil Herbert and Steve Sims Jr. showcased some potential, but they need players around them to step up. The Jayhawks will hope to develop that in the offseason.
In January, Beatty hired Bill Miller to be his linebackers coach, filling out his staff with a defensive coach who was at Kansas previously in 2009. Miller will hope to improve a run defense that has a couple of All-Big 12 Team talents in lineman Daniel Wise and linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. Dineen led the conference in tackling last year, accounting for 11.4 tackles per game in 2017.
The Jayhawks will hope to develop more players around them. That could help buck up areas that are already somewhat of a strength for Kansas, like run defense, where they were a passable 62nd in S&P+ last season, according to Football Outsiders.
The two deep in the defensive backfield returns intact, which will hopefully help improve the interception numbers there. Kansas only snagged four picks last year, so learning to track down the ball will be a priority for players in the secondary this spring.
On special teams, the Jayhawks will need to find a new place kicker and punter to replace a pair of departed seniors. Liam Jones and Kyle Thompson could step into those roles, respectively.
New special teams coordinator Kenny Perry will have his work cut out for him there. Last season, Kansas made 85 percent of the field goals they attempted, good enough for second in the Big 12. Improvement in 2018 could very well hinge on them having similar degrees of success in the upcoming season.
All in all, having so many players that have logged live snaps should be a boon for Kansas in 2018. Now might indeed be the time for the Jayhawks to start making notable strides towards the goal of bowl eligibility if Beaty is going to be the one to get them there. Taking full advantage of every single rep in practice, then, will no doubt be pivotal for the Jayhawks this spring.