All spring, the most frequently asked question of new Kansas University football coach Turner Gill was some variation of, “Which unit has stood out the most?”
Depending on the day, the answer changed. He mentioned the secondary more than once, the offensive line a time or two, the receivers once, the tight ends a couple of times, the linebackers Saturday.
It’s difficult not to infer that no unit has stood out, not such a good thing for a program trying to replace the most productive passer in school history and a safety and two wide receivers selected Saturday during the final day of the NFL Draft.
On paper, in terms of talented experience, Kansas shapes up as below average by Big 12 standards both offensively and defensively.
Which side has more talent?
“Right now, I’d have to say I might lean more toward the offense because on the offensive line we have five, six guys we feel pretty good about,” Gill said after Saturday’s spring game. “We’ve got a good corps of receivers, the receivers and the tight ends have played pretty well both blocking and receiving. I feel good about quite a few positions.”
The longer Saturday’s spring game rolled along, the more a projected 2010 record seemed like the right call. Kansas looked very much like a 4-8 football team.
That’s not an indictment of the new coaching staff and not a slam on the old one either. All but the elite college football programs that stock their rosters two-deep with starting-caliber players go through cycles. When the most talented players on the roster also happen to the be the most experienced, that’s when magical years such as 2007 for KU happen. When the majority of the talent comes from the younger classes, that’s when it’s tough to field a winner.
For KU, no position better exemplifies young and talented than the most important one. Quarterback Kale Pick, a red-shirt sophomore from Dodge City, showcased an accurate arm, but with no meaningful experience, he’ll suffer growing pains. Red-shirt freshman Jordan Webb also looked solid, but he hasn’t taken a snap in a college game.
“It’s the youngest group on the football field for us, as far as experience,” offensive coordinator Chuck Long said. “At the same time, we at least have three years with all of them, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how that develops.”
Red-shirt freshman receiver Chris Omigie, long and graceful, showed he has enough speed to get behind the defense and scored on a 72-yard pass play from Pick, who also hit red-shirt freshman quarterback-turned-receiver Christian Matthews for a 37-yard touchdown pass.
“Christian, he’s a name for the future,” Long said. “He’s a young guy who’s going to be a big playmaker for us.”
Hoping for better than a 4-8 season is the only way to go, but expecting better means setting oneself up for disappointment.
The run-oriented offense will take pressure off the inexperienced quarterback and will make offensive linemen happy. But will Kansas be able to own the line of scrimmage well enough to keep the punter off the field?
The immediate future doesn’t look too bright, but that’s no indication of the extended forecast.