Sunday, August 7, 2011

Healthier & happier: Improved KU O-line injury-free heading into fall

Members of the offensive line, Trevor Marrongelli, 69, Riley Spencer, 79, Jeff Spikes and Tanner Hawkinson, 72, converse during a break in workouts on the first day of practice, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011.

Members of the offensive line, Trevor Marrongelli, 69, Riley Spencer, 79, Jeff Spikes and Tanner Hawkinson, 72, converse during a break in workouts on the first day of practice, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011.


Kansas University offensive line coach J.B. Grimes recently shared a story about the nickname he gave to head football trainer Murphy Grant.

“I called Murph ‘Dr. Death,’” Grimes said with a hearty, southern laugh. “He made about two or three phone calls last summer that were bad, bad news. (Brad) Thorson broke his foot, (Jeremiah) Hatch can’t go, (Jeff) Spikes tore his Achilles. I got those phone calls over the course of the summer, boom, boom, boom.”

Although two of those three injured Jayhawks returned to play most of 2010, the setbacks made developing chemistry difficult at best.

Fast-forward one year and you’ll find that’s not a problem. When the Jayhawks kicked off preseason camp earlier this week, their top offensive linemen were healthy. Most importantly, KU’s projected starting five had spent the entire spring playing together. Maybe that’s why KU coach Turner Gill has such high regard for the big guys up front heading into his second season.

“I feel great about our offensive line,” Gill said. “That’s going to the be strength of our team, there’s no question about it.”

When breaking down the O-line, man by man, Grimes began in the middle.

“Jeremiah Hatch has really come a long way,” Grimes said of KU’s senior center, who stands 6-foot-3 and a trim 299 pounds. “He’s the leader on that offensive line. He may be the leader on our offense right now.”

Another key member of the group will be 6-6, 293-pound junior Tanner Hawkinson, a two-year starter at left tackle who will be playing a new position in 2011.

“One really smart thing that we did in the spring was move Tanner over to the right side,” Grimes said. “That was a really good move for the kid. Tanner had developed some really bad habits over there on that left side. The problem was there was so much bad muscle memory there so we basically just said, ‘Let’s reboot the computer, get the viruses out and let’s go to work.’”

Sliding into Hawkinson’s old spot will be Spikes, a 6-6, 325-pound junior who missed all of 2010 but has 23 career starts on his resume. Grimes said Spikes still had some work to do to get back to 100 percent.

“The guy that’s probably the rustiest of everyone is probably Jeff Spikes,” Grimes said. “Last year, I demanded that he was at every meeting and that he was there on time. Everything that I would demand out of the other guys I demanded out of him except what we did out on the football field. But he’s still rusty.”

One reason Grimes isn’t overly concerned about Spikes’ progress is because of the player the Jayhawks have slotted behind him. Although he played just 96 snaps a season ago, Grimes said he believed sophomore Riley Spencer, 6-7, 300, had the potential to become a stud.

“There is no question he’s a tough guy because he was battling that shoulder injury all of last season,” Grimes said. “You don’t go through the pain he went through just to stay on the field if you’re not tough. He was one-armed. I’ve got a great amount of respect for that kid because he is a tough, tough guy. That’s not an injury that doesn’t hurt.”

Rounding out KU’s top five are guards Trevor Marrongelli (6-2, 293) and Duane Zlatnik (6-4, 305). Marrongelli, a junior from Austin, Texas, missed the second half of last season because of injury.

“Marrongelli has really come back fine from his injury,” he said. “We just want him to keep getting bigger and stronger. He’s a guy who’s played some snaps here and really had an outstanding spring.”

As for Zlatnik, just talking about him brought a sparkle to Grimes’ eye and extra energy to his voice.

“Coming out of spring practice a year ago, I did not want to put him in a game,” Grimes said of Zlatnik. “He wasn’t ready. Then, all of a sudden, he had to play 738 snaps last year. Duane has got a chance to be a really, really good player. He’s really strong, really athletic. I like him a lot.”

Throughout 2010, Gill talked about finding seven or eight linemen he could count on. Three practices into 2011, it appears he has that many.

“Another guy who had an outstanding spring is Gavin Howard,” Grimes said of the 6-5, 292-pound sophomore. “He’s come a long way from a maturity standpoint and he’s got a chance to be a good player.”

Beyond the obvious experience and talent of KU’s front line, the thing that seems to excite Grimes most is the unit’s depth.

“We’ve got guys with size now,” Grimes said. “That’s really the big difference. We’ve got guys with Big 12 size. (Freshmen) Travis Bodenstein (6-5, 295), Bryan Peters (6-5, 305), these guys are at the size they need to be right now.”

Of freshman center Dylan Admire (6-3, 283), who arrived on campus in January, Grimes was equally complimentary. Add to that trio of freshmen Damon Martin (6-5, 265) and Luke Luhrsen, a 6-5, 290-pound former hockey player, and it’s easy to see why Grimes is so pumped up about his new hogs. That said, he’s not going to call them game-ready just yet.

“Honestly, you don’t want to play any of them,” he said. “You really don’t. They’re not ready. With an offensive lineman, you don’t just throw him in the grease and pull him out like you do a catfish. You gotta put him in the oven and bake him a while. That’s just a fact.”


TwistedFish31 2 years, 8 months ago

aphercoahsuckassexince is such a freaking loser. These kids are out there busting their butts to play football for a major university and you sit in your mommy's house on your computer and make bs remarks. You wouldn't dare say anything to any of their faces because you have no backbone. You wait up so you can be the first to post on every thread hoping that some other KU Hater will agree with your stupid remarks. Hope you keep doing it and I hope one of the men on the football team finds you someday you little nancyboy.


Dickless Head 2 years, 8 months ago

Sure am glad the OL line is happy this year. The last thing I want is a pi$$ed off and angry offensive line. Fat and happy is much more effective.

T-Minus 4 years until Reverend Gill gets the boot and we get our football program back.


KU 2 years, 8 months ago

Just because guys are big and heavy and have been around the program doesn't make them All-Big 12 caliber linemen. There are guys on OU and UT--and dare I say MU--languishing on the 3rd team who would start over most, if not all of our offensive linemen if they were on our roster.


chalky 2 years, 8 months ago

Some of those names on the O-line have had very high expectations only to experience set backs of some sort. If they can all turn the page at the same time, they might be one of the best offensive lines in recent memory.


Randy Bombardier 2 years, 8 months ago

Our line will be greatly improved. We will have a running game, our protection will be better. Offense will start making some noise. Can we use some of those hawgs on the D?


rob4lb 2 years, 8 months ago

Successful teams have strong offensive lines. Whether or not you think this is hype, it does appear that O-line is a focus and that is a good thing. Too many times last year, plays would blow up because the offensive was outmanned. The fact that the group is healthy, more experienced and familiar with the coaching staff should should result in improvement of the O-line. That will make the QB more effective, prolong some drives and keep the defense off the field as much. As I have said before, this team could be much improved from last year and still only win 3-4 games. I am going to look at how competitive they play conference opponents, hoping for some upsets and positioning for bowl in 2012. This is a process and improvement doesn't happen overnight.


Keith Hummel 2 years, 8 months ago

Agreed. I'm sick of the so-called "fans" who take pot shots at every opportunity. Every KU Football fan has a right to be skeptical given what we've been through. But the comments on this site in general, and this article in particular, demonstrate a disturbing level of childish behavior. It's gotten REAL old.

Just out of curiosity I looked up the OU roster. The average weight of every OL on their roster is 302lbs. The average weight for the OL's on KU's roster is 296lbs. That's a whopping difference of 6lbs between a rebuilding program and the best program in the nation.

But, of course, facts are meaningless for those who are bent on destroying the program before it even has a chance.


Fortesque Beagleton 2 years, 8 months ago

Im a bit skeptical too, but on paper at least our OL should be a strength. Last years troubles on the line had way more to do with injuries and lack of depth than not being competitive at a player level. Given we stay healthy we should be relatively strong up front.


Janet Scott 2 years, 8 months ago

Let's see them play 3 or 4 conference games, then we can debate the O-line's performance and potential .... with that debate based on some objectivity. I don't buy the pre-season hype.


number1jayhawker 2 years, 8 months ago

Riley is coming off of shoulder surgery during the offseason. Give him a few more months and he'll be up to 320 -325 because of being able to lift weights.


nuleafjhawk 2 years, 8 months ago

To the very few actual KU football fans out there - how nice will it be to enjoy the peace and quiet on this site when Gill turns this program around? And before the vultures swoop in - no, it won't be that long.


jayhawkintexas 2 years, 8 months ago

The picture makes them look soft, out-of-shape and undersized. Surely Grimes isn't overhyping his players---nah, couldn't be. Could it?


79ictjhawk 2 years, 8 months ago

If you didn't read the story about Asia Boyd because it wasn't a FB or mens BB story - you missed a good one. Check it out while you still can.


ahpersecoachingexperience 2 years, 8 months ago

Is the ljw running the same stories from last year with different headlines?

The o line is our strength Conditioning program is great Gill can't pick a qb


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