Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Special teams concern KU


The Kansas University football team’s offense and defense have had both good and bad moments throughout the first eight games of the season.

KU’s special-teams play, however, has been a consistent problem.

From giving up blocked punts and punt returns to struggling with personnel and execution, the Jayhawks have been victimized in the area that many coaches emphasize as the third-most-important facet of the game.

Some weeks it has cost the Jayhawks dearly. Others, it’s simply added to their misery.

Tuesday, at his weekly news conference, KU coach Turner Gill talked at length about his team’s struggles on special teams. Although the Jayhawks continue to have issues there — Iowa State’s Josh Lenz returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown last week — Gill said he and his staff had identified the problem.

“I don’t think scheme’s an issue at this point in time,” Gill said. “We’ve tinkered with that in all different areas, but right now we’re set in our schemes. It’s just a matter of, when you have an opportunity to make a play, you gotta make it.”

Too many times this season, the Jayhawks have not.

In the season opener, against North Dakota State, the Bison blocked a punt in the second quarter, with Kansas leading 3-0. Though the block didn’t directly lead to points, it did shift the field-position battle, and, two drives later, NDSU cashed in with a game-tying field goal.

Two weeks later, at Southern Miss, another breakdown in punt protection led to a special-teams touchdown for the Golden Eagles late in the first half. That blocked punt turned an 11-point KU deficit into a three-score game, and the Jayhawks never recovered.

In the games that followed, the Jayhawks began to protect senior punter Alonso Rojas better, but punting still was an issue. The loss of four-year starter Kayl Anderson at long snapper has hurt, and Rojas, who until this season was a pro-style punter, also has been asked to mix in a few rugby-style kicks.

In addition, the Jayhawks have looked confused on several occasions, with both too few and too many men on the field during punting situations.

“That’s inexperience,” Gill said. “But it’s also (that) our guys need to finish plays. I’m not going to try to sit here and make excuses. We’ve got the guys in there to make plays, and they’ve gotta make the play.”

These days, KU’s biggest special-teams concern appears to be in the return game. While the kickoff return numbers are similar (22.9 yards per return for KU and 23.9 for opponents), KU’s foes have had the advantage in punt returns, with the Jayhawks averaging just 3.8 yards per return and opponents averaging 14.7.

“Whenever you (give up) a big play in any phase of it it is disappointing,” Gill said. “We had opportunities to make plays in the punt return (against Iowa State), and that was really a big play in the ballgame. I thought that was one area where we thought we’d be pretty good in. We have improved, but when you have a big play like that, it’s disappointing.”

The Jayhawks have had a few good moments on special teams this season. Sophomore D.J. Beshears has been electric on the kickoff-return unit, averaging 27.8 yards per return, with one touchdown.

“All the other areas have kind of been inconsistent,” Gill said. “There’ve been games we’ve done pretty good, and there’ve been games where we haven’t done so well. We continue to make adjustments, continue to improve and continue to work at it.”

Starting QB still a mystery

KU coach Turner Gill said Tuesday he still did not know who would start at quarterback this week against Colorado.

It seems as if Gill is waiting to see how injured starter Jordan Webb (non-throwing shoulder) progresses this week. If healthy, Webb will start.

If not, Gill said the job would go to either sophomore Kale Pick, who has returned from a concussion, or junior Quinn Mecham, who started last week at Iowa State.

“I think we just have to wait and see as we go through the week,” Gill said. “We’ll just kind of take it day-by-day.”

Offensive coordinator Chuck Long said the delay in the decision would not handcuff the KU offense much.

“Different guys do different things better,” he said. “We put together a gameplan with our base stuff first and then (look at) what we can do to hurt the other team. When it comes to different quarterbacks being in the game, I just go to a different section of the playbook.”

Asked if he’d be comfortable going with Mecham after seeing him perform last week against the Cyclones, Long said, absolutely.

Pass rush improving

The KU defense has lived in the opponents’ backfield a little more during the past two weeks. Defensive coordinator Carl Torbush credited the play of defensive linemen Toben Opurum, Richard Johnson, Jake Laptad and Patrick Dorsey, among others, for the improvement.

“I think they’ve just played better,” Torbush said. “I don’t know if it’s anything that we’ve done. We’ve been able to put a little more pressure on them, but probably a key is that we’ve been able to get people in more third-down situations.”

Marshall making progress

Sophomore, D.J. Marshall, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound defensive end from Mesquite, Texas, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in late 2009, has made significant progress toward defeating the disease, Gill said Tuesday.

“He is now cancer-free,” Gill said. “He has been lifting weights and also now is doing minimal football activities. It’s really a smile that’s great to see on his face. It’s really good to see a young man who has had a lot of tough times (make this kind of progress).”

After numerous trips in and out of the hospital and several different types of treatments, Marshall’s future at Kansas remains very much tied to the football program.

“I’m happy for him, I’m also happy for our football team,” Gill said. “Hopefully, as we go into spring football practice and next season, he will be available for us.”


100 9 years, 3 months ago

KU will have the biggest line in America next year.

KU also has a four star running back, the fastest in the midwest who could've played anywhere, saying, "Tell the fans we're bringing the program back."

And you still post this kind of stuff?

I swear the people who post here aren't fans of KU.

If Gill didn't sign that big line or the running back, or if he wasn't successfully talking to five star speedsters (which he is), then you could have a point, but even then, you really don't.

It's a transition year. Mack Brown had two wins in his first two years at UNC. Turner Gill has two wins right now. Hayden Frye had 1 win his first year at Iowa. Turner Gill has 2.

Let the man have his spring training, guys are still adjusting, we're injured & young. But most of all let him bring in his players & we'll see where we stand.

Because we've never had the biggest line in America before.

And we've never had 4 & 5 stars talking to our head coach about coming here on a consistent basis.

But now we do.

So are you guys (all over this board) a fan of KU or not.

It seems quite apparent that we have a bunch of trolls all over this place.

Cmill1221 9 years, 3 months ago

What are you talking about?? What 5 star recruit are you talking about? Gill has never signed a 5 star recruit as head coach. And as far as our line is concerned gill has done GREAT job!!!! If you consider 2 and 3 star recruits great. Give me a break gill has got to go. And wow a 4 star recruit saying that he us going to turn things around. Do u take all your advise or believe everything that a 17yr old says? Get real man. Gill just sucks.

100 9 years, 3 months ago

First of all he is in talks with a 5 star in Texas & a five star in Florida.

Don't act like you don't know what it means; it means his foot is in the door. Maybe he doesn't sign either of these guys, I'm sure you guys hope he doesn't.

What is laughable are these boards; Gill is signed to a 5 year contract.

We can either run with it, support KU football, or we can act like a bunch of little girls on the playground.

To me it seems apparent there is no support for KU in your hearts. Either you guys loved Mangino ball (I did too). Or you really are people from another school having a good ole time here, which I suppose in it's own way is flattering to the five stars who read these posts.

Listen, all KU fans have been concerned with our last 14 games besides Georgia Tech & the other win we had at home.

Again, I ask you a simple question:

Are you really KU fans or are you Mangino fans, because there is a big difference.

The great thing is, anything you say will only make the four & five stars that much more interested in playing for Gill.

So are you KU fans? Or Mangino fans? Or fans of another school?


troutsee 9 years, 3 months ago

Here's to you 100. Some of the guys berate what you say, but a lot of what you say makes sense. I like optimists.

bad_dog 9 years, 3 months ago

Ahh, Jack Harry lives.

Yet another impressive missive from the fool with the Kansas statutory reference to indecent liberties with a child as his/her/its loser name.

Andy Tweedy 9 years, 3 months ago

Wouldn't it be about par for the course if the NCAA denied a medical reshirt for DJ?

ahpersecoachingexperience 9 years, 3 months ago

One football article. Must be hoops season! Don't worry tait the "true fans" are still here.

Let's not forget jumping offsides twice against isu and the screwed up fake field goal against nmsu. Theses are all things that reflect coaching ability not the players abilities.

Dirk Medema 9 years, 3 months ago

Those darn coaches. There they go again teaching that trendy jump offside play again. The ignorance of it is just amazing.

ahpersecoachingexperience 9 years, 3 months ago

When you jump offside and the coach is waiting for to say "hey it's ok. Just could you try a little bit harder next time? You'll be ok. Just try try try!"

Dirk Medema 9 years, 3 months ago

I seem to recall a lament in 2008 about the deterioration in ST, since 2007 was so solid. I think it was finally late in the year that someone pointed out that the lack of injuries in 2007 allowed us to use more starters on ST, but that increased injuries or slower recoveries didn't allow the coaches to use better players on ST. When the team was finally able to heal during December, they came out and had huge ST's play during the bowl.

It would seem to me that we have a similar scenario this year. LB's in particular are ST candidates due to their combination of size and speed. Unfortunately, that is arguably the position of greatest need on our roster.

Roy Scherff 9 years, 3 months ago

HCTG is the best. we will be fine in 2012.

grandpa 9 years, 3 months ago

When Gill talks about either too many men on the field or too few during punts, that is heavy on the coaching staff.

number1jayhawker 9 years, 3 months ago

Maybe to a certain extent. We don't have enough coaches to baby sit each and every player that needs to be out on the field for a punt, punt return, kick off or kick return. The players know what area of special teams they are on and just need to keep their heads in the game.

hawk316 9 years, 3 months ago

Do you get the sense that this coaching staff has been working their butts off to try to make the adjustments necessary to improve this team's play? A coaching staff can only do so much. The players have to take scheme, technique, etc. onto the field and execute. Despite the opinion of some detractors, we have some talent on this football team. But we need to continue to improve in the area of execution. Thankfully, the effort is there.

Danimal 9 years, 3 months ago

Agreed Hawk316, the players are the ones that have to get out on the field and make it happen. If Gill or Long could get under center we probably would've won a couple more games. I think KU is going to be just fine when Gill gets his schemes in place. Unfortunately, this year was the weakest schedule we're going to have in the foreseeable future.
People need to remember how beat up this team is right now. That coupled with the transition is making for some pretty painful moments. I still have faith in these coaches though. Torbush is one of the best defensive coordinators around, and has been since his days with Mack Brown in North Carolina. Given some time, and a little patience, they're going to put a good product on the field. What good does it do to sit around and lambaste a first year coaching staff?

ahpersecoachingexperience 9 years, 3 months ago

You two do know gill and his staff have the worst record of all first year coaches ( with one of the easier schedules compared to the others). How long does this "scheme" take to install? I don't know how much longer I can take this !

hawk316 9 years, 3 months ago need to button down the hatch for a long winter. Typically in cases like this, it takes 2-3 years to see significant improvement. A new coach has to recruit his players one year, let them redshirt (ideally) or mature a bit the second year and performance begins...begins... to improve noticeably soon thereafter. By the fourth year, if recruitment has gone well, things start to get exciting. As I've said before, considering the remarkable track record in recruiting by this coaching staff, I expect that we'll begin to see improvement sooner rather than later. But again, patience is absolutely essential.

Tim Bingaman 9 years, 3 months ago

I enjoyed this article. I also enjoyed the companion articles: "Offense concern KU", "Defense concern KU" & "Coaching concern KU"

hailtoku 9 years, 3 months ago

Anyone else think the motto "Believe" should be taken off the lockerroom wall? What kind of message is that, really?? To me, its saying "We might not be as good as the team we're playing, but let's believe we can beat them".

It just never sat well with me.

Why not change it to, "MAKE IT HAPPEN" or something thats proactive and not so passive sounding.

hailtoku 9 years, 3 months ago

I realize it has nothing to do with the article... forgive me though, I have A.D.D

huddle 9 years, 3 months ago

"Believe" is not the problem, you could say "make it happen" "Dream Big", or "Suck it Up!" and it really doesn't matter if your not putting the best product on the field at all times and here we are in need of a QB and we have #11 Steward standing around on the sidelines when he has to much God given talent to stand there, just think where would Jeremy Maclin be today if the MU coaches didn't have the bullets to take risks and play the kid after two years of sititng out injured. Let's take risks!! ROCKCHALK!!! JAYHAWK!!!!

troutsee 9 years, 3 months ago

We will get another punt blocked before this year is over. Rojas is a long strider and takes too long to get punts off. It's just a matter of time. Hopefully it won't be this weekend.

This coaching staff will be here for at least two years. If blow out losses mount, they won't make it to the third year. However, I think we need to give them a chance. They have a wealth of experience. If they can recruit against the shabby performances of the team this year, hats off to them. Here's hoping.

At the beginning of the year, the area of greatest need appeared to be the O-line. But, man do we ever need a QB and line backers and rush ends..and...and...oh hell, we need players everywhere. How in the heck did we fall so far so fast?

One more things. A lot of you guys give 100 a hard time. But a lot of the things he says make sense. Here's to you 100. I like optimists.

GridironHawk 9 years, 3 months ago

Great to hear about D.J. I was wondering how the football comeback was going.

jman18562 9 years, 3 months ago

Ohhhh.... Now it all makes sense! The reason we are the worst team in D1 football is because of special teams play. Why didn't I think of that? Hell, why didn't Gill think of that a long time ago? The important thing is we've now isolated and identified the reason the Jayhawks have been clobbered in every conference game and lost to a D2 school.

Ha, and to think I just thought the whole team was terrible! Problem solved. I can smell the Oranges now!

HEGhawk 9 years, 3 months ago

Really? thats it? special teams is our only concern? Whew I was worried it terrible o-line play, spotty QB production and a committee of talented but young RBs might be an issue also.

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