Kansas University football coach Turner Gill went through his first weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference Monday morning and, in doing so, shed some light on loose ends the Jayhawks are trying to tie up before Saturday’s season opener.
Battles at defensive end, cornerback and running back remain hotly contested and former running back Toben Opurum is making up for lost time and providing depth at a very thin linebacker position.
“He’s been aggressive and he is a physical player in that position, too,” Gill said of Opurum. “There are some things that, probably over the next two weeks, he’ll have to fine-tune as far as lining up against all of the different looks he’s going to have to see.”
At 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, Opurum has similar natural size to starters Drew Dudley (6-2, 241), Steven Johnson (6-1, 237) and Justin Springer (6-3, 237) and Gill said the Plano, Texas, native’s first couple of weeks at his new position were spent developing his feel.
“We just wanted to know, would he be physical and would he be able to make some things happen, and he’s already shown that,” Gill said. “He will be able to help our football team at the linebacker spot.”
Another question is defensive end, where three players are vying to start opposite of two-time honorable mention All-Big 12 selection Jake Laptad. With the opener just five days away, Gill said all three have a shot at earning first-team reps.
“There’s definitely some good competition going on there,” Gill said. “We’ve got two or three guys there in Tyrone Sellers and Quintin Woods and Kevin Young. There are definitely some battles going on there with who’s going to end up winning that position.”
Another battle that seems to have emerged is the one between cornerbacks Isiah Barfield and Calvin Rubles. Gill said senior captain Chris Harris was entrenched as a starter at one cornerback spot and that the other guys — as well as the rest of the secondary — would continue to fight for playing time as the season moves on.
“There are positions throughout the football team that are still competitive,” he said. “Running back is one, too. We’re just trying to decide who those guys are that will get the majority of the playing time.”
One position that seems to be stable is quarterback, where sophomore Kale Pick is preparing for his first start since suffering an injury during the first game of his senior season in high school. Though intense, Gill said the battle between Pick and red-shirt freshman Jordan Webb unfolded about the way the coaching staff anticipated it might.
“I think if we all had our way, you’d have someone that really stands out and you’re able to name someone (as your starter right away),” Gill said. “I didn’t have a set timetable but it became pretty clear to us, myself and (offensive coordinator) Chuck Long, as we sat down almost every day talking about it, that Kale Pick was the guy who won the position.”
Asked if he had plans to get Webb some work in Saturday’s contest against FCS foe North Dakota State in the event of a blowout, Gill said he had not thought about that.
“Right now, we’re planning on going with Kale Pick and seeing what happens,” he said.