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.”


ahpersecoachingexperience 6 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

Funhawk 6 years, 8 months ago

No, just your same tired comments after every LJW football article.

ccarp 6 years, 8 months ago

where's that new and improved +1 button?

ahpersecoachingexperience 6 years, 8 months ago

Just hope Tait doesn't have to change ndsu to mcneese state in a future article!

jaydee909 6 years, 8 months ago

Coach Gill's sunflower field has received timely rain and sun but really needs fertilizer. Be on your way.

fromthatstandpoint 6 years, 8 months ago

Nobody provides more fertilizer than aper....

Dan Harris 6 years, 8 months ago

No Apher your just still in groundhog day with your same old negative comments after EVERY football article!

Mike Kendall 6 years, 8 months ago

Apher's comments are like a "dog & pony" show at the Three Ring Circus that comes to town once a year---it is getting old, my friend! Not!

Ben Kliewer 6 years, 8 months ago

1992 called, they want their "Not!" back...

hawk316 6 years, 8 months ago

"All that I accomplish is not because of me. It's because of God and the offensive line."

-- Walter Payton ...

LAJayhawk 6 years, 8 months ago

+1. Sweetness used to buy his O-Line gold watches every year. He was well aware of their importance.

Chris Bailey 6 years, 8 months ago

I kinda agree............ I can't believe it but I do. But I only agree from the standpoint that the article ran last year and was sounding positive and then the line looked horrible last year. That article though was written speaking about a healthy line as is this one. So hopefully our line will remain healthy and I have little doubt much improved if it remains as such. SO my agreement is very limited.

79ictjhawk 6 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.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 8 months ago

Absolutely. Makes DJax seem almost whimpy.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 8 months ago

giggity or giggly?

And Riley looks more like a WR, or at least a TE.

Matt Tait 6 years, 8 months ago

Not scrawny at all. Saw him up close the day before the first practice when they were moving in. No pads and he was an absolute mountain.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 8 months ago

Thanks for the insights as always. The pix are probably just a bit deceptive.

jayhawkintexas 6 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?

ahpersecoachingexperience 6 years, 8 months ago

Totally agree. I think they might want to recalibrate the scales

Randy Bombardier 6 years, 8 months ago

I kinda thought the same thing, but then guys look the buffest after hitting the weights not when doing light duty outside. I dont know that we can read anything into this picture alone. Certainly, we have all seen linemen who were quite overweight and yet very effective, sometimes even dominant. In fact linemen who look like Mr. Universe usually aren't that good.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 8 months ago

It is worth realizing that the pix are of players just in jerseys, and not pads, which is just a bit different than what we're use to seeing. If the OL can stay healthy, this crew has shown that it can be effective. Add a couple elusive RB's behind them and it could be a fun season.

nuleafjhawk 6 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.

number1jayhawker 6 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.

Andy Tweedy 6 years, 8 months ago

This site is no different than so many others. The whiners generally make the most noise, doesn't mean there aren't lots of supporters out there, standing right behind HCTG and the boys.

Mike Kendall 6 years, 8 months ago


I am definitely behind HCTG. It's too bad to get on the site and read a good football article. Then, the first to comment is Ahper, who hammers Gill's program relentlessly. The only way to keep him away is "win baby!"

ahpersecoachingexperience 6 years, 8 months ago

Of course there are a lot of us that are 6 ft 230 lbs but we are closer to biggest loser ranch than playing middle linebacker.

rob4lb 6 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.

beenahawk 6 years, 8 months ago

"This is a process and improvement doesn't happen overnight."

Can't we just go back to "sawing wood"?

rob4lb 6 years, 8 months ago

The cupboard was pretty bare when Gill took over. I don't know if he is a big time coach and will elevate the program to mid-tier Big 12 which is where Mangino took the program. You have to give him a chance to see if he can be successful with his system. He needs at least three years.

huskercarpenter 6 years, 8 months ago

Not only is he a big time coach, the KU program will elevate to the top of the Big XII. I will go one step further, when all is said and done he will be in the NCAA Hall Of Fame as a player and a coach. I have said it before HE IS SUCCESSFUL AT EVERYTHING HE DOES! EVERYTHING!

kureader 6 years, 8 months ago

I have high hopes for Gill, but you've had too much Big Red Coolaide

huskercarpenter 6 years, 8 months ago

If you believe the things that he said when he first got here, then you should believe that too. If he does those things at KU there is no doubt in my mind, that what I said will happen. I tell you what you can think I am crazy, but in time you will understand that crazy ain,t so bad. just enjoy it as it happens.

Randy Bombardier 6 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?

Dennis Mahorney 6 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.

KU 6 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.

TwistedFish31 6 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.

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