Palm-tree optimism colors nearly every story written from spring-training camps throughout major-league baseball. Nothing inappropriate about that. Every young ballplayer deserves to have the skills that gave him a shot at the big leagues highlighted. After all, he hasn’t lost a single game.
The same goes for college football squads sweating through summer camps. No point in doubting that a returning player has taken the proper steps to improve, unless coaches or teammates hint he has not. No reason to dispute a newcomer deserved the scholarship he was granted before seeing him play a single snap.
All we can do, as reporters of a team coming off a 3-9 season that featured an embarrassing loss to Div. I-AA North Dakota State, was on the wrong end of three consecutive mega-blowouts and gradually became more competitive before dropping a stink-bomb in Arrowhead Stadium against despised rival Missouri, is to try to find out what teammates and coaches think of various players.
Naturally, they’ll paint a positive picture, which leads to skeptical Kansas University football fans often asking me, “Are they really going to be as good as you guys are telling us they’re going to be?”
Oops. Didn’t mean to mislead anybody. It’s just that time of year. When a team hasn’t lost a game and we haven’t had access to view a single practice or scrimmage, why go negative? Accentuate the positive and still try to bring a dose of reality to the situation.
The reality: The roster is faster than it was a year ago, which should eliminate the embarrassing look of some of the blowouts. The team is extremely young, and teenagers tend not to win very many games. On paper, the defensive line shapes up as the weakest in the Big 12, the linebackers are quick, but not particularly big, and the secondary looks strong.
Offensively, the line should be considerably better than last year, when it was particularly porous. The receivers? They’ll block better because if you don’t block for David Beaty, you don’t play. Get the ball to D.J. Beshears or Daymond Patterson in space and good things could happen. Beyond them, so little experience from the unit makes it tough to draw any conclusions.
Look for quarterback Jordan Webb to perform better with added protection and the wisdom not to try to hit the home run when working a walk is the right play. When Webb’s missing the mark, no reason Quinn Mecham can’t come out of the bullpen. Like a zone-buster in basketball, a pool player who has worked up a good hatred for his cocky opponent and a hitter who can’t make an out in baseball, Mecham has the look of a guy who sees everything in slow motion when he gets a hot hand.
The run game should improve with the wide variety of complements to James Sims.
The speedy Tony Pierson, slithery, make-’em miss Darrian Miller, big-and-fast Brandon Bourbon and rugged fullback Nick Sizemore supply KU offensive coordinator Chuck Long more options than he had last season.
The special teams can’t be any worse.
So what might it all mean? That Kansas will be a better 3-9 team in 2011 than it was in 2010.