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Friday, October 9, 2009

Ahead of schedule

Jayhawks offensive line better than expected so far

The Kansas offensive line buys quarterback Todd Reesing time against UTEP on Sept. 12 in El Paso, Texas. The offensive line earned praise from coach Mark Mangino this week.

The Kansas offensive line buys quarterback Todd Reesing time against UTEP on Sept. 12 in El Paso, Texas. The offensive line earned praise from coach Mark Mangino this week.

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When a size-15 shoe and a size- 141⁄2 are asked to co-exist within 6 to 10 inches of space, precise movements, coherent communication and unwavering trust are required just to get the job done.

“There’s not another unit on the field where five guys have to communicate as much as they do on every single play and trust that the guy next to him is going to do exactly what he’s supposed to do,” Kansas University offensive line coach John Reagan said.

So how do KU’s offensive linemen — guys whose average size measures 6-foot-4, 296 pounds — work together so well in such limited space? For starters, it’s not just in the trenches that these guys spend time together. Whether it’s watching extra game film, going out to eat or hanging out at each other’s apartments, this year’s starting offensive linemen have a bond that extends to all areas of their daily lives.

“I think the fact that we all really like each other really pays off,” left guard Brad Thorson said. “Every player has their own idiosyncrasies, and we all play off each other really well. We have great chemistry out there. It helps. If someone’s struggling a little bit, he’s got four guys who know what’s going on, and we can all pick each other up and really get going.”

So far this year, KU’s offensive line has performed better than expected. At his weekly news conference Tuesday, KU coach Mark Mangino said the unit was farther along than he had envisioned, high praise for a group that’s playing together for the first time and includes a left tackle — red-shirt freshman Tanner Hawkinson — who jumped over from the defensive side of the ball just this spring.

“Right now, after four games, I think (the offensive line is) a little ahead of schedule,” Mangino said. “I thought we’d have a lot more breakdowns. A lot of it has to do with the intelligence of the group. We have a pretty smart bunch of guys. There are bigger challenges ahead for them, and they know that, but I like the track we’re on.”

Perhaps the most unique reason this unit is where it is today — running backs Jake Sharp and Toben Opurum have combined for 570 yards and nine TDs, and quarterback Todd Reesing has seen a minimal pass rush — is its offseason dabblings in the art of karate.

It’s not unusual for offensive linemen to fine-tune their skills through other avenues. Some have tried yoga, others ballet, and the Jayhawks have gone for private lessons from the man they call “Karate Bob.” Team officials declined to reveal Karate Bob’s real identity, but the impact of his tutelage is no secret.

“When the defensive lineman’s trying to come in, he teaches us to knock his hand off just like real karate,” sophomore center Jeremiah Hatch said. “We knock his hand off and put our hands in there. It’s not really karate karate, it’s more hand placements and when to turn your hips and how to use a punch and stuff like that.”

According to Reagan, the reasons for using the age-old practice go beyond the physical benefits.

“Martial arts require a lot of things from the individual, the first being focus,” Reagan said. “And then the physical attributes go with it, with balance and punch and power and things like that. It’s been done over the years a lot of different places for a long time.”

During Mangino’s time at KU, the practice dates back just two seasons and has paid serious dividends. Twice a week during the offseason, for 30 minutes at a time, KU’s linemen worked on hand-to-hand combat and a little sparring. According to Hatch, Karate Bob’s visits were one of the most popular and enjoyable parts of the offseason.

“Oh yeah. We look forward to it,” Hatch said. “We have arm protectors and chest things for sparring. No face shots. Then we get to go out there and go against each other and really do karate. That’s the best part.”

Asked which of the five linemen most embraced the ancient art, Hatch didn’t hesitate.

“Probably Brad Thorson,” Hatch said. “He’s just one of the guys that looks forward to it (and says), ‘Hey, Karate Bob’s coming today!’ If he’s not coming, he’s, ‘Aww, Karate Bob’s NOT coming.’ (Thorson’s) probably the best with technique, though.”

Better karate technique has led to better play. Better play has led to better protection. Better production has led to a 4-0 start. As a result, the entire line — which includes Jeff Spikes (size 17) and Sal Capra on the right side — has performed as one cohesive unit throughout the season, huge shoes and all.

“If you do your play right, you can look at it on tape and we’re all moving the same direction at the same time,” Hawkinson said. “It looks a certain way when you do it right.”

Comments

gardenjay 4 years, 10 months ago

More articles about the OL and DL, please.

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Kevin Long 4 years, 10 months ago

Good article! I think the O-line has been doing really well for all the lack of playing time there is. I think they will get better and better as the season goes on.

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KU 4 years, 10 months ago

After watching NU's defensive line last night, we better start working on sumo wrestling techniques instead of karate. I'm afraid the boy named Suh will just bull rush our offensive line and crush the pocket. In all seriousness, I've said this since last fall: until our offensive and defensive lines are elite level like OU and UT (and NU's d-line last night), we will have to be lucky to win a championship. We have the skill players to compete; we just need the big uglies to come along.

Keep sawin' wood, fellas!

Rock Chalk Jayhawk.

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Rodney Stice 4 years, 10 months ago

KU, I also watched that game. It was a rainy, penalty ridden, sloppy mess. NU's defense looked superior to MU's offense. NU should have had 4 more interceptions. That was the first game that I was able to watchof both teams. NU impressed me with their defense and desire to not give up when a win looked out of reach. I also found it odd that the visitor locker room didn't have any lights on at halftime. Was the reason from the rain, coach Bo, or some MU fans?

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Rivethead 4 years, 10 months ago

I think Pinkel's play calling had a lot to do with how good NU's D looked.

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kranny 4 years, 10 months ago

I think Gabbert throwing 2 ints in 70? seconds had a lot to do with it.

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coolhand357 4 years, 10 months ago

Thank you Nebraska for giving MU what they deserve. Of course, now you must die.

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patrick_raftery 4 years, 10 months ago

So ... or should I say Suh ... who's gonna block Mr Suh when the Huskers come to town?!?! Just wonderin ... I'll log off and listen for my answer.

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Tony Bandle 4 years, 10 months ago

I would personally like to thank Missouri and Nebraska for a most entertaining game last night.

I would like to thank the Huskers for beating Missouri on their home field...always a blow to title chances, plus the bonus of crippling the Tiger QB Gabbert.

I would like to thank Missouri for showing the weaknesses of the Huskers, namely, the space between the ears of their QB, Lee. Also, injuring #10, their best running back was an added bonus.

As far as blocking Suh, HCMM now has a video library of how NOT to block him, generously donated by the Tiggers, so I have faith an effective scheme will be in place next month.

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gardenjay 4 years, 10 months ago

I disagree with the injury aspect of this F-ball game - no one should wish injury on others, and besides, you need to become more peaceful now. Remember the Nobel PEACE Prize, it might make it a good time to start existing with Missouri.

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Tony Bandle 4 years, 10 months ago

gardenjay...point taken. I was an All-State football player back in the day and I guess I let that "Mr. Hyde" part of my personality momentarily reawaken.

A true victory is when you beat an opponent who is at full strength!!!

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Kevin Long 4 years, 10 months ago

I wish he would have broken his leg! I hate MU.

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hawk316 4 years, 10 months ago

The great Walter Payton once said "I owe my success to God and my offensive line" (this is a paraphrase as I can't recall the exact quote, but this is close).

These guys don't get much glory, but it's nearly impossible to have a successful football season without a good o-line. So, it's great that the LJW is giving them some props.

O-line, way to go! Keep up the good work.

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KANSTUCKY 4 years, 10 months ago

In regards to a boy named "Suh", as long as we don't throw the ball to him directly, we should be okay. I also think we can outsmart them... plus our new found karate skills. First things first, take care of ISU. Right 100?

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LAJayhawk 4 years, 10 months ago

hawk316,

Payton used to buy them all gold watches every year as well. Even when they stunk and he ran over people to break records with no help from anyone.

Of course, Walter Payton was also a ridiculously wonderful human being.

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gardenjay 4 years, 10 months ago

Thanks for being gracious Oakville - KU fans are the best!

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fhtcchief 4 years, 10 months ago

Kanstucky, Great intro on your first line about Suh! LOL

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kvskubball 4 years, 10 months ago

Kanstucky,

I think we have a fifty-fifty chance, even if we throw it right to Suh. He dropped one right in his wheelhouse earlier....Or, maybe it will be less than 50-50, now that he has some practice receiving Misswho passes! So we should probably 'try' not to throw it to him?

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Jim Pendleton 4 years, 10 months ago

Couldn't agree more with the posts on the lines. They are doing well so far, but must continue to improve to reach that next level. No doubt HCMM and the staff will work them hard to make it happen.

Suh will definitely be a handful. Yes, we should not throw at him, not just because of what he did last night, but I think I am correct in remembering a play in Lincoln last year when he did the same thing to us. Can't happen again if we expect to win.

Soap box time - why am I still seeing ads saying there are still tickets for sale for Saturday's game against ISU? Ranked team, Homecoming, Big 12 Opener - should be a sellout easy. Need a big walkup. There are big games ahead as well, and we must keep the OU & NU red out when they come to town. Jayhawk Nation - get with it and pick up the rest of these seats, and again to those of you with tickets, do not sell or give them to the other teams fans. Need a full blue house each game.

Rock Chalk !!!

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kvskubball 4 years, 10 months ago

jim80,

way to toot the KU brand!

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aconverse 4 years, 10 months ago

anyone else get a song in their head when reading this article? here's a taste:

"You're the best around, nothings gonna ever keep you down"

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KGphoto 4 years, 10 months ago

coolhand357... perfectly to the point. So Bond villain.

And I'm pretty sure John Brown DID carry a 357. It just suits him.

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KGphoto 4 years, 10 months ago

Doh! A Joe Esposito reference by aconverse. An LJW first. Go Karate Kids!!

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