Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Jayhawks RB leader a mystery


Most of the preseason football curiosity centers on which inexperienced quarterback will get the call to start the season, a competition Kale Pick likely will win.

Meanwhile, the race for featured running back receives not as much attention but offers more intrigue.

The front-runner? If there is one, nobody’s saying.

Power back Toben Opurum hasn’t been listed on a depth chart, at least publicly, since Turner Gill replaced Mark Mangino as head coach. If that’s not a bad sign for Opurum, at the very least it’s not a good one.

Rell Lewis is sidelined because of a knee injury. Angus Quigley is back for a sixth season, but the more time that passes without him winning the job, the more reason exists to suspect whatever kept Mangino from using him makes Gill pause as well.

Red-shirt freshman Deshaun Sands, listed at 5-foot-7 and 190 pounds, has a shifty, determined running style. Consider him a candidate, but not the front-runner.

Don’t discount the possibility of a true freshman leading Kansas in rushing this season. James Sims of Irving, Texas, and Brandon Bourbon of Potosi, Mo., arrived on campus with big reputations.

A 6-foot, 205-pound runner blessed with pretty good speed and the ability to make tacklers miss, Sims turned down scholarship offers from Arkansas and Purdue.

A 6-1, 208-pound speed back, Bourbon reneged on an oral commitment to Stanford to sign with KU after Gill and recruiting coordinator Reggie Mitchell were hired.

Asked to compare the true freshmen, Mitchell obliged.

“James is probably a little bit more elusive between the tackles,” Mitchell said. “James has really good feet, whereas Brandon has straight-away speed. That’s probably the biggest difference. One guy (Sims) is probably a little more shifty than the other.”

Learning the nuances of pass protection and adjusting to the speed of the college game rank as the biggest adjustments for true-freshman running backs, Mitchell said, but in many ways it’s an easier place to earn instant playing time than most positions.

“The running part, once they get started, you can tell right away, because that’s all instinctive,” Mitchell said. “I say, ‘Hey, your aim point’s here,’ and once the ball is in their hand, it’s all on them.”

Sophomore receiver Bradley McDougald compared the running styles of the two freshmen.

“They both have good speed,” McDougald said. “They both run tough. Bourbon’s a more physical runner, I would say. He likes to put his head down a little bit more, has a more aggressive stiff arm. Bourbon’s faster. Sims has speed as well and is a physical runner, but he’s more agile, a little shiftier.”

The guess here — and it’s just a guess — is that Sims has as good a shot as anybody to win the job. Bourbon’s ceiling could be just as high.

“Bourbon kind of reminds me of Jake Sharp, a bigger Jake Sharp,” McDougald said. “When he gets more comfortable in the offense and the system and with the speed of college football, I think he’s going to be a great impact college player.”


JBurtin 7 years, 10 months ago

More intriguing than the quarterback race. Luckily though IMHO not something that needs to be worried about. There are plenty of players that can get the job done, so the toughest part is just figuring out how to use the pieces we have while trying our best to keep all of the players relatively happy so that they'll continue to buy in.

Not an easy task, but a good problem to have.

jaydee909 7 years, 10 months ago

Informative article with no negativity. Thank you!

jaydee909 7 years, 10 months ago

The comment about negativity has absolutely nothing to do with speaking about players in a glowing fashion. Keegan had a story just a few days ago about Coach Gill's recruiting style but he ended a very nice article with a comment about when the losses start mounting this season. That is negative. You must have missed that one.

Jeff Coffman 7 years, 10 months ago

Nice article, that focuses on something that I have been intrigued about. Especially with the new offense suppose to give 20-25 carries to one running back.

Andy Hess 7 years, 10 months ago

let's not kid ourselves here. Opurum will be the starting RB. Sims has a better chance at playing this year than Bourbon, mostly because Bourbon has yet to figure out how to block.

Dirk Medema 7 years, 10 months ago

Assuming they won't make the full transition to the college game this year (not a given, but just for discussion), would all that speed be beneficial on special teams?

ST's discussions usually focus on 2 players at either end of the kick, but it would seem that players with the size and speed of Sims and Bourbon could be beneficial covering kicks and blocking for the return man. Hopefully, we can pull together enough talent to improve on the last couple years where our return game left something to be desired (as I recall).

rolo2383 7 years, 10 months ago

I read the comments first so I could decide if the article would be worth reading. The comments have convinced me that this article is worth reading.

Time to read.

hawk316 7 years, 10 months ago

As most informed readers are aware, Toben Opurum was still recovering from injury in the Spring, so that explains his absence on the depth chart. Based on what I saw during his freshman season, I have a feeling that Mr. Opurum will see plenty of action this season.

However, as Mr. Keegan reveals, there are a number of options available at running back for Coach Gill. As JBurtin pointed out, that's a nice problem to have. The upper echelon football programs in the nation are usually very deep in talent at nearly every position. The more often we see that "problem" here at KU, the more accomplished our program will become.

JBurtin 7 years, 10 months ago

I definitely see Opurum getting used, but I still think that he'll be a situational back. Gill has been asking many players to lose a bit of weight to make them quicker and I still see Opurum as a guy that is a bit too big and heavy. I'm actually a huge fan of his, but I think that we'd get a bit too predictable with him as a featured back.

I see Quigley being a guy that will fit the prototype of what Gill is looking for. Big enough to drive up the middle, but quick enough to make the corner, and just strong enough to hold his own on a block.

Sands can offer a nice change of pace for a few downs here and there, or can be mixed in on plays as an extra receiver to make it essentially an empty backfield play.

Lewis ran awfully hard on the few plays that he got in last year, so he's one of the toughest players to predict. He may ride the pine all year, or he may end up as the featured back. I could see a super power run play or two being worked in with him and Opurum on the field at the same time. It would also be a great setup for play action.

Beyond that, Sims and Bourbon could likely use a year of redshirting to get them used to the college game, but I think it may be tough for the coaches to justify not finding a role for Bourbon's freak athleticism. Getting him in open space on the return game seems like a possibility.

blackhawkjayhawk 7 years, 10 months ago

jaydee99: no negativity? I didn't realize the the LJW was an extension of KUAC public relations. Perhaps that is Keegan's problem - he doesn't know who he works for.

Bottom line on this year's team: Mangino left the cupboard bare. If he hadn't been fired after last season, he would have been fired after this one and then we'd just be another year down the road.

The real test of true Jayhawk fans is this: can you handle the truth and still support your team?

My college years were spent with Mike Gottfried, Valesente and then followed by the mercurial Glen Mason. How tough are you?

jaydee909 7 years, 10 months ago

I endured Pepper Rodgers one win season after the Orange Bowl year. Been a loyal fan through thick and thin. How tough are you?

Randy Bombardier 7 years, 10 months ago

Looking forward to an improved running game. Nice to have lots of choices this year. It will be someone's chance to become a KU legend. Hope we can keep them healthy.

justanotherfan 7 years, 10 months ago

I see Bourbon, Sims and Opurum all getting carries, and Sands being a change of pace, third down type of back.

Since Bourbon isn't as good a blocker as the other two, he will probably be limited in how often he is on the field in passing situations, whereas Opurum and Sims will probably split time as the regular back. I am okay with that, because having two backs to split the load is better than having one guy get 300+ carries and wearing down.

I'd like to see them get Bourbon the ball on traps and sweeps so he can use his speed without having to make lots of people miss. It was extremely frustrating to watch the old staff continually try and pound Jake Sharp up the middle instead of getting him on the edge where he could use his speed rather than trying to become a power back.

Let's hope this staff uses its personnel to the best of their individual abilities.

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