Saturday, August 9, 2008

Give Jocques the rock

KU practice paints picture of explosive offensive unit

Kansas running back Jocques Crawford takes a handoff and looks for yardage. Crawford took reps with a first-team offense that looked explosive at the Jayhawks' open practice Friday at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas running back Jocques Crawford takes a handoff and looks for yardage. Crawford took reps with a first-team offense that looked explosive at the Jayhawks' open practice Friday at Memorial Stadium.



Kansas running back Jocques Crawford

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Kansas running back Jocques Crawford discusses the upcoming 2008 season.

KU football team hits the new practice field

On Friday, for the first time this season, head coach Mark Mangino opened up his practice to the media and the public. The KU football team ran through drills for about two and a half hours.

More than the sky was sunny at the Friday morning Kansas University football practice. So was the outlook for an offense that lost five key starters from a 12-1 season.

With 20 of the top 22 players returning on defense, the development of the offense will get more attention in coming weeks. Those who sunned themselves at Memorial Stadium had to be pleased with what they saw from the skill positions. And let's be honest, isn't that what most people watch?

The first thing to grab the eyes was the low-to-the-ground, slithery running style of Jocques Crawford, who makes quick cuts and has the look of a guy who instinctively knows how to make tacklers miss. Crawford and change-of-pace back Jake Sharp both will get ample carries, ensuring KU has a fresh runner on the field at all times. But the smart money says Crawford will lead the team in rushing yardage and touchdowns, softening the blow of losing Brandon McAnderson (1,125 yards, 16 touchdowns).

Watching a slightly thicker-looking Dezmon Briscoe streak down-field, extend his long arms, and catch another Todd Reesing bull's-eye in stride called to mind NFL Draft day, watching highlights of receivers analyzed by the various gurus. Briscoe has the whole package and knows how to block. Marcus Henry's 1,014 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns will be missed, but not as much as at first meets the eye. In his sophomore and junior seasons combined, when KU didn't have as productive a passing game as it did in 2007 under offensive coordinator Ed Warinner and quarterback Todd Reesing, Henry totaled 42 receptions, three touchdowns and 499 yards. In his true freshman season, Briscoe had 43 receptions, seven touchdowns and 496 yards. Henry is even faster than Briscoe, but the younger player is the more physical receiver.

Strong, sure-handed slot receiver Fields and ultra-athletic Kerry Meier showed last year how well they click with Reesing. Former quarterback and current tight end A.J. Steward, who used sharp moves to get open, looked as if he already has developed chemistry with Reesing. Daymond Patterson, a leading punt return candidate, will turn simple screen passes into big gainers during his time at KU, thanks to such quick feet. Patterson also looked terrific laying out to catch a long pass from Reesing, but couldn't hold onto what would have been the catch of the day.

College football coaches from big-time programs - yes, Kansas now qualifies - show you what they want you to see during open practices, which is to say not much. Still, watching one practice is enough to form hunches about players and the team. This group looks bigger than recent teams. Just as important, nobody stood out by slacking off and falling behind. The discipline in the program, passed down from the veterans year after year, has deep roots now.

One more encouraging sign: James McClinton, physical and spiritual leader of last year's underrated defense, has exhausted his eligibility but hasn't left the program. Seeing McClinton, who has one more semester of classes before fulfilling requirements for a degree, working as a volunteer assistant moved the karma needle to the good side.


topekahawk 13 years, 2 months ago

Keegan,I am 100% certain that "spiritual leader" James McClinton isn't Hindu. His presence will not involve Karma.

troutsee 13 years, 2 months ago

We are picked 2nd in North and 13th to 15th overall....with very high expectations for a terrific year by both the players and the fans. I'd say this is big time. After going 10-2 this year there will be no doubt.

Gregg Webster 13 years, 2 months ago

What's wrong with Karma? We can use all the good Karma, particularly between players, that can get!

jhawk23 13 years, 2 months ago

Wha wha . . . thanks, Debbie Downers. Great way to start the day.

KGphoto 13 years, 2 months ago

The offensive line could be even better. Remember we plugged in 3 new guys before last season. Ryan Cantrell (C) became the units unquestioned leader and Adrian Mayes (LG) should only improve in his second year as a starter. Chet Hartley (RG) was the other one, and they are all seniors now. Jeff Spikes competing with Ian Wolfe for the LT position is going to produce a very good player. And we've got several new guys that could be great. John Williams is huge, and the Marrongelli kid is nasty.We're going to go through this every year, but I think Mangino is way ahead of the curve. Next year will be a bigger drop off with the losses of those 3 key seniors in the middle.

KGphoto 13 years, 2 months ago

As far as big time programs. Nobody said we were Oklahoma, but I'll guarantee you Oklahoma circled Kansas right next to Texas on their schedule. And that alone makes you big time.You don't beat V. Tech in the Orange Bowl, lead the nation in scoring, and field an elite defensive unit in a fluke year. This team is more solid top to bottom than any of K State's best squads.

troutsee 13 years, 2 months ago

You got it KGphoto.The O-line will be just fine. Trust me on this one.

Toto_the_great 13 years, 2 months ago

True yovoy, KSU had about a 10 year run, but how many BCS games did they play in, and of those, how many did they win? The answers would be one and ZERO. 2007 could be a start to something much better than the purple pansies 10 year of "tradition."

KGphoto 13 years, 2 months ago

Oh well JBurtin, I thought I read that Mangino said Hatch was the hardest worker and would "find a spot" on the team. Either way, we've never been more loaded at OL.BMac and Crawford are pretty similar, so BMac must have been doing something right. I loved watching him run. Super natural vision and the lowest pad level possible. From what I've seen, Crawford is a tad smoother in his cuts and has the same vision, and deceptive speed as BMac. And he finishes runs looking to punish, much like BMac.All said, I think the running game is gonna look pretty similar to last year.

hawk_bred20 13 years, 2 months ago

JBurtin- I agree completelyYeah, the O-line is always the cornerstone of a rushing and passing offense, but to say that BMac's success was not because of his skills is ludicrous. He is one of the hardest workers I've ever seen and along with a great ability to break tackles and more speed than you think, he has some of the best vision for a running back that we will see at KU.

JBurtin 13 years, 2 months ago

Apparently some of you missed yesterday's article that covered the offensive line a bit more.Jeremiah Hatch took the most snaps at LT with Spikes competing with him for the job. I'm excited about this development as it gives us two enormous guys competing for that one spot on the field and should drive the level of play up considerably. So far, it looks like both of them are playing well, so LT should be better than it ever has been. If somebody gets injured we can actually play his talented backup instead of keeping an injured starter on the field.I think Hatch will probably end up moving back to his natural position at Center after this year, but by that time some of the younger guys will be ready (Read this as Marongelli will be ready).RT appears to be a three way battle between Darton, Wolfe, and D'Cunha. I believe Darton currenly leads that battle with Wolfe nipping at his heels.BTW,"I agree. Our success offensively will only be as good as the offensive line. How did Spikes perform on Reesing's back side? 98% of McAnderson's success last year was because of the O-line. Not because of his skills necessarily."That is one of the dumbest things I've ever heard said on this site . . . and that is saying something.If it was truly 98% then I suppose you or I could have gone out there and run for 98% of the yards that he did. And as for his blocking skills, heck I weigh 230 lbs. or so, I guess that makes me qualified to stop a Big Twelve linebacker.Honestly, I get your point that the offensive line is important. With a crappy line even Adrian Peterson or Reggie Bush would look like nobodies. But you've basically painted McAnderson out to be some awful player that lucked his way to a 1000 yard rushing year. His top speed may not have been very fast, but the kid runs like a miniature Jerome Bettis. It's pretty insulting to sell him that short.

HawkDigestCom 13 years, 2 months ago

They looked big time enough for me yesterday.

mythicalbirdfan 13 years, 2 months ago

We know the skill positions will be solid, but what about the offensive line? That's the big question mark. Did you get to see them perform at all? How did they look? We'll only be as good as they are.

kranny 13 years, 2 months ago

Mythical,I agree. Our success offensively will only be as good as the offensive line. How did Spikes perform on Reesing's back side? 98% of McAnderson's success last year was because of the O-line. Not because of his skills necessarily.

FinalFinal 13 years, 2 months ago

Reading too much into it...coming off a 12-1 BCS win year, KU is a big time program, now. I do not see the words historical or annual or others suggesting anything other than a top 15 team.Good article, got me fired up.

LAJayhawk 13 years, 2 months ago

JBurtin-I definitely agree with you. One thing I would add, however:"With a crappy line even Adrian Peterson or Reggie Bush would look like nobodies."What about Walter Payton? Granted he was arguably the greatest running back ever, but he ran all over the field with virtually ZERO blocking for many years. Bush isn't even in the same ballpark as Payton. Peterson is more a Gale Sayres type and has potential to reach a near Payton level, but has a lot still to prove.Of course, to your point, Payton is probably the exception that proves the rule.

troutsee 13 years, 2 months ago

The greatest back of all time was Gayle Sayers.

Matt Gauntt 13 years, 2 months ago

I agree completely with the notion of waiting a few years with great sucess before we call ourselves a major program.That being said, I am REALLY excited: - Lot of great players back - We are starting to get a lot better recruits - Mangino is solid for several years to come now, so recruits can feel confident that their guy will be there - New football complex that is SOOOOO very cool - Starting to be recognized by the nationalsSo very excited to see what a returning Reesing and a new Crawford can doShould be an exciting year, and many more to come

yovoy 13 years, 2 months ago

...yes, kansas now qualifies....? are you kidding? we didn't allow certain other state u's fans think they were for real, and they had a lot more than JUST ONE great season - they had around 10 (i'm guessing). we'll see if kansas "qualifies", or even matters, in about 5 more years.

LAJayhawk 13 years, 2 months ago

I actually meant to say "arguably ONE of the greatest..." when discussing Payton.Either way, troutsee, Sayers is certainly up there in a league of few, but he wasn't the best back of all time. That clearly was Jim Brown. Let's look at Sayers and Brown's first five years of stats (before Gayle got hurt, and I won't include Payton because after his 3rd year the NFL switched to 16 games).Sayers: 4866 total yards, 973.2 ave/yr, and 39 TDsBrown: 6463 total yards, 1292.6 ave/y, and 57 TDsReally, not even close. If you look at yards per game, Sayers never averaged more than 100 any year (95.1 being his highest in '68), Payton averaged over 100 three times in 13 years (a ridiculous 132.3 being his highest in '77), but Brown averaged over 100 yards a game 7 out of the 9 seasons he played (a slightly more ridiculous 133.1 being his highest in '63). 7 out of 9..... Insane.Sayers was a tremendous talent and would have had amazing career numbers if he stayed healthy. Plus he'll always be the "Kansas Comet." But he's no Jim Brown.He did, however, play for both the Jayhawks and the Bears (my two favorite football teams) and will, therefore, forever kick ass.

troutsee 13 years, 2 months ago

Forgot about Jim Brown. Yeah, he'd be #1. I'd still take Sayers over Payton.

rhino11 13 years, 2 months ago

Yo JBurtin, here's the most up-to-date on tackle. Wolfe and Hatch working first string w/ Spikes filling in. No mention of Darton or D'Cunha. From the Jesse N's blog.¢ Kevin Romary of 6Sports told me he was watching the offensive line specifically, and that Ian Wolfe and Jeremiah Hatch were the ones getting the first-team snaps at tackle, with Jeff Spikes also getting in the mix for the first string. He said, for now at least, the No. 1 tackle spots look to be a competition between those three.

actorman 13 years, 2 months ago

LAJayhawk, I would tend to agree that Brown was # 1, but I dont' think your statistical comparison is valid. Yards per game is not nearly as meaningful a stat as yards per CARRY. I've always been irritated when someone carries 30 times for 105 yards and people say he had a good game, or when someone carries 15 times for 68 yards and people say he didn't have a good game. It's the same thing as wins vs. ERA in baseball: most people focus on wins when ERA is a much better stat for determining worth.Obviously there's a limit to what I'm saying. If someone carries only five times a game, then you can't determine much from the average per carry. But that doesn't apply in Sayers' case; he obviously wasn't as much of a workhorse as Jim Brown, but I would guess (being too lazy to look it up) that his average per carry was as good if not better than Brown's.

JBurtin 13 years, 2 months ago

I don't know about the Jim Brown comparison.As always you still have the time period problem with comparisons.Sayers was far enough back in time that the forward pass was a new development. It was a much lower scoring game back then.Suffice it to say that Sayers and Brown will always be two of the guys that are in the conversation.

LAJayhawk 13 years, 2 months ago

"You are correct that their yards per game were basically equal."Woops. I of course meant yards per carry not per game.

actorman 13 years, 2 months ago

And of course that doesn't even take into account kickoff and punt returns, or yards from receiving.

LAJayhawk 13 years, 2 months ago

Of course it's valid. You are correct that their yards per game were basically equal (both about 5.1 for the first 5 years, although Brown ended with a career number of 5.2). What you are not taking into account is the extra pounding a back will take with the extra carries (I believe Brown averaged about 50 more carries a year), especially considering that, as JBurtin pointed out, the running game was such a significant part of the offense; therefore, he was keyed on by the defense much more. And with that extra pounding, he still finished his final season with his highest yardage: 1544, 110.3 per game, and 5.3 Y/A Side Point: in Brown's 3rd to last year he averaged 6.4 yards per carry!!!!Secondly, I didn't consider return or reception yardage because the discussion was regarding the best running back. Although, Brown and Sayers were fairly close in yards per reception (9.5 to about 11). Total yards from scrimmage for the 1st 5 years (rushing plus passing yards), Brown 7509 and Sayers 6179 (and Brown was thrown to about twice as much in the second half of his career while still maintaining the same rushing numbers). It's not fair to compare return yards because Brown wasn't really a return guy.Finally, what is not valid about comparing TDs? Seems like, for an offensive player with such enormous importance, that's a pretty significant statistic. How often they get in the endzone (the ultimate goal). Want a total from rushing and receiving? Fine: Brown 63 TDs to Sayers 48 in the first five years. By the way, Brown had 21 total TDs in his final year, more than Sayers had in any year.

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