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2021 Season

Big 12 Spring Wrap-Up: Jayhawks On An Accelerated Restart As Summer Nears

Lance Leipold takes over at Kansas without spring practices. What is the outlook for his next few months?

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Getty Images - John E. Moore III

Spring football is drawing to a close throughout the Big 12, and teams have started gaining more clarity as to what their 2021 squads are going to look like. As they head into summer workouts, we’ve gotten into some tentative impressions of all the teams, providing a projection of offensive and defensive starters for the upcoming season (returning starters in bold) as well as some post-spring observations.

After the ousting of former head coach Les Miles, the Jayhawks worked through spring with an interim staff before finally deciding on the next guy to take charge. Lance Leipold was hired over from Buffalo following six solid seasons with the Bulls. Leipold won multiple championships as a coach in Division III college football, and built Buffalo into a program that finished in the Top 25 last season. He parlayed that resume into a new job that he unfortunately has to jump into in the middle of the college football offseason.

Leipold inherits a program that has been searching for an answer at head coach since 2009, which was the last time the Jayhawks won more than three games in a season. Though four different coaches have tried to make headway at Kansas, every rebuild seems to stall just before it really gets going. Elevating the football program from those struggles is now the task Leipold has set before him, but it’s a project he’s taken on at other places he’s been. As head coach at the University of Buffalo,  he went 24-10 over the past three seasons, turning the Bulls into a winning program.

Now, Lance Leipold hopes to have the same impact on a Jayhawks team that finds itself perennially in the basement of the Big 12. With a new head coach taking over midway through the off-season, expectations should be that Year One may involve a rough start. Still, what exactly can Leipold and the staff accomplish between now and September? Below, we go over some thoughts and observations from spring to try and answer that question.

Projected 2021 Kansas

Depth Chart

OFFENSEDEFENSE
WRLuke Grimm (So.)DEMalcolm Lee (Sr.)
LTMalik Clark (Sr.)NTSam Burt (Sr.)
LGAdagio Lopeti (Sr.)DECaleb Sampson (Sr.)
CColin Grunhard (Sr.)JACKSteven Parker (Sr.)
RGChris Hughes (Sr.)SLBKyron Johnson (Sr.)
RTEarl Bostick Jr. (Sr.)WLBGavin Potter (Jr.)
TEMason Fairchild (Jr.)MLBNick Channel (Jr.)
QBJason Bean (Jr.)CBDuece Mayberry (So.)
RBVelton Gardner (Jr.)SSKenny Logan Jr. (Jr.)
WRKwamie Lassiter II (Sr.)FSRicky Thomas (Sr.)
WRTakulve Williams (Sr.)CBKaron Prunty (So.)

How Will The Staff Work With The Current Offensive Personnel?

The offensive line for Kansas might have been the weakest unit on this team in 2020, and it’ll be interesting to see if Liepold’s offensive coordinator, Andy Kotelnicki, can find a way to improve this group. An offense that only scored 15 points per game in Big 12 play last season often stalled because whoever was at quarterback was under duress, or running backs were stopped before getting out of the backfield. It’ll be interesting to see if this staff can craft an offense that can mitigate those issues in the trenches.

Undoubtedly central to that project will be determining who gets the start at quarterback. The good news is that none of the candidates lack in-game experience. Miles Kendrick has been around the program the longest, but Jalon Daniels has a lot of upside. If newcomer Jason Bean could do what he did at North Texas, with a passer rating of 145 in 2020, that would certainly lift the play of the offense for the Jayhawks. Establishing one of those candidates as someone who can be “the guy,” though, could be key for success in generating momentum from next season forward.

Will The Defense Continue To Progress?

Last year, Kansas made some strides defensively, and new defensive coordinator Brian Borland will hopefully be able to build on that. One issue that will be of immediate concern will be blending what he’d like to do schematically with what’s already on hand. Borland was running more of a four man front last season, and, especially with all of the transfers, he could decide to base more out of what the Jayhawks were doing in 2020.

Hopefully, that will allow some continuity with the pass defense, which was maybe the strength of this Kansas team last year. The leader in that regard should once again be true sophomore Karon Prunty, who logged ten pass break-ups and an interception last season. Like other players in the lineup, Prunty is a younger guy who could be part of the foundation for the Leipold era at Kansas.

Expectations Should Be Low This Year

No matter how you slice it, this is difficult position for Leipold and the staff to walk into, with spring practices having already concluded. This should definitely be considered a “Year 0” as the new coaches settle in to figure out what they’ve got on campus and how their personnel will fit into the overall vision for the program moving forward. Something to keep an eye as we get into the season, though, is what that vision is for Kansas football and what it will be moving forward.

That type of long term plan felt like something that the previous staff was beginning to define, and we should get a inkling early on of what answers Leipold thinks he has for what all has been ailing the Jayhawks. Immediate on field results might not necessarily be there in 2021, and the real question to ask is whether Leipold can actually begin creating something built to succeed on down the line in Lawrence.

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