Monday, January 12, 2009

Spikes still a work in progress


To hear Kansas University red-shirt freshman Jeff Spikes talk about what it was like manning the left tackle position early in the season is to picture a youth basketball player learning the proper mechanics of shooting a layup.

“My first three games of the season I was just thinking about myself, trying to get myself right, trying to get my footsteps right, trying to get my techniques, all my fundamentals down,” said Spikes, a native of Painesville, Ohio. “Now I know my techniques and my fundamentals, and I still am trying to improve on them, but now I’m able to also read the defense and read what they’re doing at the same time, so it’s better.”

Spikes, whose first love was basketball, didn’t begin playing football until his junior year in high school. His more experienced roommate, Jeremiah Hatch, also a red-shirt freshman, took over the left tackle spot for the Iowa State game, and Spikes moved to right tackle.

The entire season was a learning experience for Spikes, whose worst performance came in Lincoln, Neb.

“That’s when I saw the most unfamiliar things happen with the defense,” Spikes said. “There were things I hadn’t experienced. There were techniques I hadn’t played against. That was really unfamiliar for me, and that made me not play in my element. I wasn’t too sure, wasn’t comfortable. But I learned the most from that game just because I had the experience of going through things like that I hadn’t seen before. I learned more that game than the first three games of the season.”

Told how Spikes reviewed his season, Kansas coach Mark Mangino said, “That’s a good self-assessment that he made there. I think he was mechanical in the beginning, more worried about how he’s supposed to position himself rather than it coming naturally, and that comes with experience. The more repetitions you get, especially game repetitions, the more comfortable you get. You can see him really starting to understand things, and he’s much more fluid with areas that he struggled with early in the year.”

Before the Insight Bowl, Spikes was asked to name his best game of the season.

“My coach, John Reagan, said my best game was the Missouri game because he said I played well from beginning to end,” Spikes said. “I’m not sure because I really don’t kind of judge it like that, but that’s what he said so I’m going to take what he said and just run with it.”

Spikes isn’t KU’s most effective offensive lineman yet, but his ceiling is considered the highest.

“I still don’t feel like it’s clicked to the point I’m fully understanding what’s going on, like dealing with the defense, that’s something that comes with experience in football, and I’m learning that now,” said Spikes, who added he has learned a lot from teammates Adrian Mayes, Chet Hartley and Ryan Cantrell and former teammate Anthony Collins, now of the Cincinnati Bengals. Collins also came to football late from basketball.

“Being behind him was a blessing all its own because he knew so much, and he’s playing in the league right now, so everything he taught me was a blessing,” Spikes said. “All the knowledge I didn’t have, he instilled in me. And my offensive line coach, John Reagan, he’s still teaching me fundamentals and techniques. The experience of being behind Anthony Collins and playing for a great coach and great teacher, I feel like I’m finally catching up to where I need to be right now.”

Spikes said he tries to talk with Collins weekly.

“He encourages me, and I try to encourage him, too,” Spikes said. “Just because you make it to the league doesn’t mean everything is all nice and dandy like it seems to people. I’m proud of him. Since I got here all he could talk about was, ‘Momma gotta eat.’ He took that as his motivation. Since he made it to the league and got to where he wanted to be and hopefully will continue to excel, I think he’s going to continue to have his mother eat, and he’s going to eat at the same time.”

A return to left tackle could be in the cards for the 6-foot-6, 314-pound Spikes, but Mangino recently didn’t give any hints to the alignment of next year’s offensive line and also praised the play of 6-3, 311-pound Hatch at left tackle.

All three members of the guard box — guards Mayes and Hartley and center Cantrell — are seniors. Wisconsin transfer Brad Thorson is a candidate to start at either guard or center. Moving Hatch to the middle of the line, either at center or one of the guard positions, is another option, provided Ben Lueken or Ian Wolfe is ready to start at tackle. Trevor Marrongelli and Sal Capra both are candidates to play in the guard box.

“I’m not sure I can answer that right now,” Mangino said of Hatch moving inside. “Jeremiah right now is our best left tackle, and he’s getting better and better. I have been with teams where the left tackle was not a big, long, rangy guy, but played well and was very good at that position. Because he has good athleticism, he plays with a low center of gravity, he’s quick, it gives him a chance to be pretty good at that position. We’ll look and see. Here, we evaluate personnel nearly every day. But right now, I’m in no hurry to drag him out of there.”

It’s also possible a player not-yet recruited could work his way into the lineup.

“I think we will have a good line,” Mangino said. “I’m comfortable with what we have here, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of perhaps, if we found a junior-college player that we thought would fit our needs, and would help us, we would do that. But it’s not a high priority in the recruiting, I’ll put it that way.”


JBurtin 11 years ago

He looked pretty bad in the spring game last year. I think he's really a rugby player. Rugby is a rough sport, but you're also constrained with how hard you can hit somebody by the fact that with no pads you'll probably injure yourself if you hit somebody too hard. Putting football pads on makes certain parts of your body nearly impervious to injury and frees you up to hit much harder. It's also pretty much no holds barred in rugby so you have to use your body a completely different way to dominate your opponent. Not being able to simply grab somebody is a difficult task for somebody that grew up with rugby where holding is something that you do every minute of the game.D'Cunha said pretty much the same thing himself in an article a while back. There's a certain attitude to Football that I think he is having trouble translating to his own culture.

TheSaint 11 years ago

All he needs is an opportunity.

Alan Halvorsen 11 years ago

d'cunha is done just like crawford.The line next year probably looks like this.LT-Jeff Spikes 6-6 315 So. (RS)LG-Jeremiah Hatch 6-3 311 So. (RS)C-Brad Thorsen 6-3 290 Jr.?RG-Sal Capra 6-3 292 Jr. (RS)RT-Ian Wolfe 6-5 295 Jr. (RS) It will probably be Leuken just cause all things being equal MM seems to prefer his youth to the more experienced. (Spikes and Hatch this year) I hope it is Wolfe though his time is now.Also look for possibly John Williams at guard.

Hawkish4bigM 11 years ago

Like hearing how Collins is still mentoring. Wonder if he can help recruit? Might be a good camp to put together bringing in Collins and other Hawk pros. Does NFL have any restrictions there?

Rick Arnoldy 11 years ago

Living near Cincinnati I'm force fed the Bengals during the season. Collins was one of the few bright spots this year. The announcers and local media loved him.

Alex Lent 11 years ago

Just watched some old highlights of Jon Cornish. Man, he was stud his senior year. I remember the Ft. Worth Bowl and how excited us Kansas fans were just to be there. One thing I noticed in the highlights is that our home crowd looked more like a multi-colored state fair concert crowd instead of a home football crowd wearing the same royal blue. Another thing I noticed was people seemed to be shocked when we scored a touchdown. It makes me realize how far we've come from just in a few years as fans and as a team. It also makes me appreciate the fans and coaches while leading me to believe we are getting better as a program and as a football school. Something to think about Jayhawk faithful, and something to be proud of too.

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