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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Put it on the line: Coaches like look of offensive front

Kansas University’s offensive line — in this case, Jeff SPikes (74), Brad Thorson (76), Sal Capra (59) and Jeremiah Hatch (77) — try to get running back Toben Opurum, center, into the end zone against Texas Tech. All those front-liners return, giving the KU coaching staff high hopes for the unit heading into the fall.

Kansas University’s offensive line — in this case, Jeff SPikes (74), Brad Thorson (76), Sal Capra (59) and Jeremiah Hatch (77) — try to get running back Toben Opurum, center, into the end zone against Texas Tech. All those front-liners return, giving the KU coaching staff high hopes for the unit heading into the fall.

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About this series: This is the first in a series of previews of Kansas University's football team by position. The series will run Wednesdays and Sundays in the Journal-World and on KUsports.com. Coming Sunday: defensive line

Some coaches like size, some like speed and others like quickness.

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KU football assistant coach J.B. Grimes works with the offensive line during practice in this file photo from spring drills on April 19.

Kansas University offensive line coach J.B. Grimes prefers intelligence and toughness, at least when it comes to his leaders.

That’s just one reason Grimes, about to enter his first season with the Jayhawks under new head coach Turner Gill, has taken a special liking to returning starters Sal Capra, 6-foot-2, 295 pounds, and Brad Thorson, 6-5, 310.

“Both those guys are really, really smart guys, really tough guys,” Grimes told the Journal-World during a summer breakdown of the position. “You love that combination of character and toughness that goes with those two guys. Brad’s probably a little more vocal than Sal. Sal’s a quiet guy, but when he says something, people listen.”

In many ways, Capra and Thorson — who reportedly broke his foot last week but is expected to return by the start of the season — best embody what this year’s offensive line is all about. Both have logged extensive playing time during their time at Kansas — the two have 24 career starts between them — and both are no-nonsense, team-first guys. The second part of that equation bodes well for them to fit into Gill’s way of doing things. But the first part, well, that’s the part that has Grimes, the rest of the KU coaching staff and even a few national pundits predicting big things for the Jayhawks in 2010.

“There is no substitute for experience,” Grimes said. “You can’t do without it, and there’s only one way to get it. And we’ve got some guys who have played the game quite a bit at the University of Kansas. To have those guys and to know that when they first run out onto that field they’re not going to have a wide-eyed look and they’ll be looking around and knowing what they’re doing, that’s really a comforting feeling.”

Grimes’ comfort with his new hogs does not stop with their experience.

Grimes believes sophomore Tanner Hawkinson is a marquee player.

“I think he’s got an NFL body and all that,” Grimes said. “He’s just a guy that has to get in that weight room and get himself stronger. We’re like that pretty much across the board. We’ve got to get these guys where they’re content with knocking people off the football.”

That skill would be especially useful for juniors Jeff Spikes (6-6, 325) and Jeremiah Hatch (6-6, 332), mountains of men who, under the old regime, appeared to be more comfortable in pass-blocking schemes. According to Grimes, that wasn’t their fault.

“I think this group is probably a little bit ahead of schedule from a pass-blocking standpoint,” Grimes said. “Obviously, that kind of makes sense when you look at how they threw the ball as many times as they did a year ago. Some of that has to do with the physicality. You always have to throw the football, we all know that. What we’ve also got to do is be able to run the football. We can’t just throw young quarterbacks on the field and throw it every down. So we’ve got to develop that mentality to be able to run the ball, and I think we will because they’re smart, and they’re tough guys.”

Behind the first tier, which includes part-time starter Trevor Marrongelli, 6-2, 293, Grimes believes the Jayhawks have plenty of young talent on the O-line. Included in that group are sophomore Duane Zlatnik, 6-4, 326, and red-shirt freshmen Riley Spencer, 6-7, 300, and Gavin Howard, 6-5, 292.

“We’ve got some young guys who have a chance,” Grimes said. “They just need more time. They need to be put in the oven and baked a little while longer. But they’re going to be fine. I think Duane Zlatnik is an outstanding prospect. He’s just not there yet from a comfort-level standpoint. Riley Spencer is a really outstanding talent, and I like Gavin Howard. I think he’s got a chance to be a good player down the line. The great thing about it is, those guys are all young guys.”

Young or not, many of them likely will be thrust into action this fall.

“I think we have six, seven guys we feel pretty good about at this point in time,” Gill said near the end of spring drills. “I’d like to have eight guys on the offensive line that we feel very strong about.”

Added Grimes: “We feel like we’ve got some guys we can win with right now. We’re fairly athletic up front, and that’s something I’ve always liked to have. I don’t like them to necessarily be the biggest guys in the world. If they’re tough enough and smart enough, you’ve got a chance to put a good unit out on the field.”

The Jayhawks report to fall camp Aug. 3.

Comments

Kman_blue 3 years, 9 months ago

I think Donnie is still living in Lawrence and still trying to play pro football and his twin brother, Ronnie, was living in Lawrence also, but just signed with the CFL Calgary Stampeders in July.

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Alan Halvorsen 3 years, 9 months ago

Whatever happened to Donnie Amani?

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king_dom 3 years, 9 months ago

just on a side-note. phil ford (bishop miege Offensive lineman) just committed to KU. from his facebook:"Phil Ford I committed to tha KU jayhawks today ayyyy I am a jayhawk!!!" good news just keep coming.

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Randy Maxwell 3 years, 9 months ago

Just so you know Sims is more of an inside runner and Bourbon though bigger is much faster to the outside

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Dirk Medema 3 years, 9 months ago

Glad to read this will be a series.

Sims and Bourbon could be the reincarnation of Henley and Levine from '95, and that bodes well for the 'Hawks.

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Phoggin_Loud 3 years, 9 months ago

September 4th can't get here soon enough!!!

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youowethehawks 3 years, 9 months ago

I don't know about you all, but I'm still more that hype on that guy we used last year so sparingly. What was his name? Oh yeah, TOBEN.

In an online chat last year, I asked him which scenario did he prefer: (A) slamming into the pile and moving it for a 2 yard TD, or (B) knocking the ever-living daylights out of an unsuspecting LB in a run block.

His answer still makes me "al-dente": He chose "B". I can't wait to see us run an "I" or "power" set this year. Opurum can not only bruise for yards, he can bruise for other people's yards. He takes pride in both and that, as much as anything bodes well for our ground game this year... especially with a wall of 6-4 or 5, 300+ hogmollies doing their job.

The running game is a simple one, with simple mathematics: if each lineman can eliminate one d-lineman and one can get to the strong inside or middle backer, all the FB has to do is put the OLB out of position (or better yet, level the fool) and all of a sudden your RB is wreaking havoc in the secondary. I don't care which of our backs is carrying the ball, but I'll take that matchup on a DB any day.

Rock Chalk!

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justinryman 3 years, 9 months ago

Second over-all NFL draftee Suh, had 3 tackles vs Kansas last year. Not three sacks, not three for losses, just three tackles. Crick did not have a very good game either, and I believe it was probably a lot of scheming to do that, but, hey, look what they did vs Texas in the Big 12 title game??? I think this O-line will do fine, as long as we are not to one dimentional, and I mean that by trying to run the ball over and over. I am more concerned over who will make the right play at QB and can make the throw when needed.

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KU_Alumn_2000 3 years, 9 months ago

Rivethead - Correction....meant to say " do not underestimate Bourbon " .

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KU_Alumn_2000 3 years, 9 months ago

Glad to hear that our offensive line is looking solid. I don't think they will be dominate against a Nebraska D-line...but it's good to hear they are looking above average.

Now on to a more concerning topic. What about our D-line...which ranked toward the end of all college football D-1 lines. If our D-line doesn't improve...then we could be in for another long season. We all know how it feels to watch the opposing QB over the past two years have 6, 7, and sometime 8 or 9 seconds to sit back and find a receiver. Our defense starts with the line...and boy I hope we see some improvement.

Rivethead - I would underestimate Bourbon...the kid is a mack truck with some serious speed.

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KGphoto 3 years, 9 months ago

Damn! That's a road-grating front. With Opurum, Angus, Bourbon and Sands, I would be happy running the ball until Mack Brown's boys yell uncle! And then run some more. And then go deep to Omigie. And then make Bo Polini cry. And then run some more.

We know Opurum is a load. We've seen Angus knock a man out! Brandon Bourbon my be the best RB on the team, and Sands is a waterbug.

If the coaches get all this meshed and motivated, the potential is serious.

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KGphoto 3 years, 9 months ago

Damn! That's a road-grating front. With Opurum, Angus, Bourbon and Sands, I would be happy running the ball until Mack Brown's boys yell uncle! And then run some more. And then go deep to Omigie. And then make Bo Polini cry. And then run some more.

We know Opurum is a load. We've seen Angus knock a man out! Brandon Bourbon my be the best RB on the team, and Sands is a waterbug.

If the coaches get all this meshed and motivated, the potential is serious.

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d_prowess 3 years, 9 months ago

Tait, can you make sure that at least one of your articles per week has some quotes from Grimes in it? This guy gave out some classic lines above! I also love the pic of him; he looks just like a grizzly coach that will get after these guys and make them better.

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Dirk Medema 3 years, 9 months ago

Brad made a size comment a while back, tho the fight where he busted up an OL starter was also doc'd.

The worrisome fact that Coach Grimes alludes to is that we have had really limited OL classes recently. I think Coach mentioned every OL player we have, and some are not quite ready. All the more reason it has been nice to see the '11 OL commits.

It all starts up front.

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Rick Arnoldy 3 years, 9 months ago

Thorson left Wisconsin because of behavioral issues (e.g. fighting with teammates). That doesn’t seem to have been a problem at KU, however.

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Eurekahwk 3 years, 9 months ago

Didn't Thorson leave Wiskey because he wasn't big enough? And he wasn't comfortable being any bigger than 290? Now he is over 300 solid. And Hatch and Spikes have cranked up the weight. Sounds like the new S&C Staff put them all back in the oven. Now, I think we should see a serious ground game with the likes of Angus and Opurum bulldozing DBs and LBs with newfound running lanes courtesy of a bigger line.

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100 3 years, 9 months ago

Wow we have some size. Young, but man, in a year or two we are going to be loaded!!!!!!!!

Now lets bring in those 4 and 5 star speedy speedy Jimmy and Joes Coach Gill!!!!!!!!

We have the best weight room in the nation, bring in those 5 stars and let's get 'em faster for the NFL with all the 6'5" 300 pound protectors they could ever need!!!!

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