Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jayhawks’ forte: RB James Sims returns as leader of KU’s strongest position

The Memorial Stadium crowd rises up as Kansas running back James Sims leaves Colorado linebacker Liloa Nobriga on the ground for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010 at Kivisto Field. The extra point by Jacob Branstetter tied the game.

The Memorial Stadium crowd rises up as Kansas running back James Sims leaves Colorado linebacker Liloa Nobriga on the ground for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010 at Kivisto Field. The extra point by Jacob Branstetter tied the game.


Coaches and analysts alike have said that running back is the strongest position on the current Kansas University football team.

There’s a reason for that. KU coach Turner Gill, now in his second season in Lawrence, believes strongly in controlling games with a sound rushing attack and steady defense.

That much he proved a year ago when, saddled with three quarterbacks with little or no experience, Gill turned to the ground game in an attempt to keep the Jayhawks in ballgames.

At times, that was a struggle. But born from that mindset was the emergence of James Sims, a sophomore-to-be who led the Jayhawks in rushing in 2010 and returns in 2011 as KU’s top threat.

Today, we give you our first installment of a weekly summer position breakdown in which KU football beat writer Matt Tait, sports editor Tom Keegan and online editor Jesse Newell rank the top five players at each position and offer up a few comments on why they voted the way they did. We’ll also tally up our consensus top five at each position.

As the summer goes on, you’ll see that these lists start to look a little different, with each of us seeing something unique in this player or that one. But our running back list is pretty consistent. For starters, only six different players were named, and each of us had Sims and freshman Darrian Miller ranked first and second.

Here’s a look at who said what about KU’s top running backs.

Matt Tait’s list

  1. James Sims: He might not wow you, but he’ll keep the chains moving and knows how to find the end zone.

  2. Darrian Miller: Could find himself in the conversation about the most exciting backs in the Big 12.

  3. Nick Sizemore: Gill wants to run. Sizemore wants to block. It’s a perfect match. And plenty of coaches have told me that this guy’s a future NFL player.

  4. Brandon Bourbon: Red-shirt freshman was really making strides before an injury this spring. Should be back to 100 percent by the start of the season and very easily could still be a factor.

  5. Anthony Pierson: Reggie Mitchell wouldn’t spend the kind of time he spent recruiting Pierson unless it’s worth it. Pierson could be crazy good.

Tom Keegan’s list

  1. James Sims: Doesn’t have break-away speed, but he has everything else.

  2. Darrian Miller: Faster in pads than on the clock, he knows how to make tacklers miss.

  3. Anthony Pierson: Fastest back in the program will work his way onto the field somehow.

  4. Brandon Bourbon: Faster and bigger than Sims, he just as easily could be ranked first. He also would make a terrific linebacker.

  5. Nick Sizemore: Teammates paint a picture of a tough-to-tackle, physical, blocking machine of a fullback.

Jesse Newell’s list

  1. James Sims: Not a gamebreaker but good at getting a couple more yards than you think he’s going to get.

  2. Darrian Miller: Showed in the spring he could be KU’s highlight back; can break tackles and has good speed.

  3. Nick Sizemore: He will help KU a lot without getting a ton of headlines; a good fullback with NFL potential should benefit KU’s running game.

  4. Rell Lewis: Hard to know what to expect because of injuries, but his 42-yard catch against Missouri in 2009 makes me think he could be good if healthy.

  5. Brandon Bourbon: Leg injury in spring a tough setback for red-shirt freshman.

Journal-World Consensus Top 5 Running Backs

Five points awarded for first, four points for second, three points for third, two points for fourth and one point for fifth.

  1. James Sims (15)

  2. Darrian Miller (12)

  3. Nick Sizemore (7)

  4. Brandon Bourbon (5)

  5. Anthony Pierson (4)

Others receiving votes: Rell Lewis (2).


Ashtin Meerpohl 8 years, 7 months ago

I'm really looking forward to seeing Brandon Bourbon on the field. I've been excited about him since we signed him. Really hopes he finds his way on to the field. I think he could be really good!

waywardJay 8 years, 7 months ago

If James Sims played that well last year behind a patchwork line, Imagine what he can do with a consistant line..... Cannot wait for football season.

Andy Tweedy 8 years, 7 months ago

The line has to be better, and I think you're right and it will be.

hawk316 8 years, 7 months ago

I'm with you both on this. A much improved line with tons of talent at running back equates to being competitive, even with a super tough schedule. Yeah, I know. We'll probably lose a bunch, but I don't think we're going to roll over. Should be fun to watch. I remain absolutely convinced that this program is on the ascent.

5DecadeHawk 8 years, 7 months ago

Matt, I click on your articles so that I can avoid reading Keegan's mindless opinions.

You're a better writer than to team up with Keegan for something like this.

vd 8 years, 7 months ago

Can we now say the Sands schollie was payback to the great Tuxedo Tony? Sometimes you have to give these to role players and players who will keep a pipeline open. Hopefully, in the future though, these players will not be RS so they use up 5 years of scholarships. Save the RS for the lineman so they can bulk up. Backs either have "it" or they don't.

panalytic 8 years, 7 months ago

Good to hear about our fullback having so much potential! That was real good news and I'm looking forward to the rest of this series. Also, I'm with the people who think Rell Lewis has a chance to be a good back.

KGphoto 8 years, 7 months ago

A glut, to be sure. I wish we could trade in a couple of the talented backs who will never see the field for an upgrade at a position of need. But just not BB.

I get tired of hearing the Bourbon to LB move. He's a breakaway threat at RB. He needs to get his opportunity before we start moving him over there in our minds (Keegan). Anyway, linebacker is more difficult to be great at than that. You can't just plug the guy in and say "Run fast and tackle" You need time to get acclimated. You need to understand coverages and schemes. Could he be great? Sure. But not this year. Probably not next year. He needs to stay at RB. Even if he's not playing, he's an invaluable asset in terms of depth. You can't move the guy before he gets to run.

Kirk 8 years, 7 months ago

Keep 'em all at RB. We'll need the depth there.

Kirk 8 years, 7 months ago

Keep 'em all at RB. We'll need the depth there.

KU_Alumn_2000 8 years, 7 months ago

Would like to see Bourbon get a chance...that guy is a Mack truck with speed and athleticism.

Pierson may be the fastest in the program...and could see him returning kicks and punts.

There is so much talent at runningback that a couple of these guys will get disappointed with the lack of playing time.

Randy Bombardier 8 years, 7 months ago

I just hope that we carry the ball a lot. I mean 70% of the time. When we do throw it needs to be for the home-run. Glad to see us depart from having to throw on 3rd and 3. If we run on two of the three downs at minimum we should do well. I like the strategy.

Geekinout 8 years, 7 months ago

Can have the best running backs in the world, depends on if the O-line shows up.

Geekinout 8 years, 7 months ago

He was a freak! One of my all-time favorites.

KU 8 years, 7 months ago

Exactly. Last year's O-line was well below average, in some part due to injuries. But injuries happen almost every season to every team's offensive lines, so I hate to use that as an excuse.

Apparently, we have a bunch of freshmen that should help depth, but you can't count on many true freshmen being able to contribute in a big way at this level of football.

Which brings us to the current 2-deep. What do we have that we didn't have last year? True, Spikes is back from injury. Hopefully Zlatnik's adjustment to OL is progressing and will make him better than last season. The rest of the guys are leftovers from the makeshift line of last season. How do we expect this offensive line to be significantly better than last year's?? I'd say they may be a slightly below average Big 12 offensive line at best.

I think we are a year or two away from starting to see the recruiting of legitimate offensive linemen pay off for us.

Christopher Hauser 8 years, 7 months ago

I never played o-line but I am assuming that the transition from primarily a pass blocking o-line to mainly a run blocking o-line could be a difficult one. I am a little more optimistic about our offensive line for this and instead, the d-line is what worries me more.

Dirk Medema 8 years, 7 months ago

Spikes was out Marrongelli (?) was out after the 3rd game (?) Hatch was limited by injury/conditioning Thorsen was limited by injury

We had so little depth in the OL that all those became really significant.

ahpersecoachingexperience 8 years, 7 months ago


Remember when T-Geezy picked Sands to start over Sims? What a great evaluator of talent!

ahpersecoachingexperience 8 years, 7 months ago

Wow! So sims was able to pick up the offense completely between week 1 and 2 enabling him to play?

KGphoto 8 years, 7 months ago

Ragging on Sands now? Jeez! What'd he do? He posted 3.8/carry last year behind that patchwork line. Sims' 4.4 is hardly blowing him out of the water.

Purse, Zenger hasn't fired Bonnie, he sure as hell isn't gonna fire Gill. You might as well put on your best Turner game-face, and hope for the best.

KSseahawk 8 years, 7 months ago

Not a TGill fan either (of the coach...he's a good man) but agreed, gotta hope for the best. The Hawks will still finish DFL in the Big XII, but what I will look for this season is how (whether) they improve throughout the season and build on successes..something we didn't see last season.

Last season was completely about evaluating players...we heard that in every post-game presser. TGill can't play the same card this season.

I think it's funny that Bonnie's name often comes up on the Football boards.

newjayhawk 8 years, 7 months ago

James just keeps getting better. Each year is always better than the last. I believe this year will be one to remember. I just don't think those kids[Jayhawks] will be as bad as people project them to be.

mjhawkchalk 8 years, 7 months ago

Okay, everybody has known about our depth at Running Back. Now what about our Quarter Back? Can we already assume Brock Berglund is our guy? I don't see Webb nor Meachem starting this year.

sevenyearhawk 8 years, 7 months ago

"Turner Gill, now in his second season in Lawrence, believes strongly in controlling games with a sound rushing attack and steady defense."

Earth to Turner ... this is the 21st Century NCAA, not Nebraska 1980/90.

Maybe the plan is just to bore the other team to sleep.

rolls eyes

waywardJay 8 years, 7 months ago

if they go single wing receiver you could see a 10 man front, if that corner is worth anything.

ahpersecoachingexperience 8 years, 7 months ago

I see teams going video game style and running field goal block formations against us when we have the ball 1st and 10 on our own 20.

waywardJay 8 years, 7 months ago

Punt block formations.... 10 up on the line and one safety back in the middle to catch the one route receiver downfield ....

waywardJay 8 years, 7 months ago

IF there is one thing proven over and over again.... If you don't have a passer that's at least 70% accurate in college... No matter what your rushing offense, your not going to move the ball.

Guess what our guys were accurate for last year ????

56.5 - Webb 59.8 - Mecham 58.3 - Pick

or 57.5 percent passes completed.....

Now, put that against our rushing numbers.....

4,4 ypc Sims 3.7 ypc Quigley 3.9 ypc Beshears 3.8 ypc Sands 6.9 ypc Patterson 5.2 ypc Macdougald

Even averaging out the fact our Quarterbacks were sacked frequently we averaged 3.4 ypc... IN other words.... We were averaging a first down every three plays wit a horrible offensive line last year.

GO further into the statistics.... Since Sacks count against Rushing and not passing..... let's look at our yards per attempts...

5.58 Webb 5.43 Mecham 5.34 Pick

or 5.5 as per team.

We ran 57% run to 43% pass, on Offense. Your average game is around 70-80 plays.... Based on 80 plays, we would run the ball 46 times... and pass 34. If we covered just our average run play we would gain 156 rushing yards....

If we hit our average last year ( 57.5% at 9.56 per Completion ) We would have 19 completions, for 182 yards per game..... only 26 more yards difference....

Considering how atrocious our passing game was last year, one would logically assume that teams were loading the box to stop us from running the ball... Giving credence to the thought that Running the Ball is tougher when a team is horrible throwing the ball.... We should have worse numbers on the ground.... But we were only marginally fewer yards rushing than passing... Even though we were facing 8-9 men in the Box..... And unless those SAME quarterbacks + Berglund are not improved.... We are STILL going to be facing 8-9 men in the box....

Boring maybe, but statistically our best chance to win last year was running the football, with a patchwork Line, against heavily run defensive sets..... Not a glowing review of our Passing from last year.

KGphoto 8 years, 7 months ago

Amen. Besides, Nebraska circa 80s/90s isn't something to be ashamed of. And there isn't any reason you can't do that in today's game. He's loading up on RB talent and depth, just like Nebraska used to do. (still does) He's loading up on OL talent and depth, just like Nebraska used to do. (still does)

When you run the ball successfully, you tire out the defense. If you have 4 or 5 good RBs to pick from late in the game, you can really put the screws to a tired defense.

Reesing and Co. were a blast to watch, but there is nothing more satisfying than a team that can run all day.

sevenyearhawk 8 years, 7 months ago

Running teams can't catch up when the opponent gets way ahead ...

and what developments should be expect on the defensive side of the ball?

I predict more ugly - possibly worse with having to face the South powers on an annual basis.

KSseahawk 8 years, 7 months ago

But remember how gassed our D was in EVERY game last season?

Hawks fans...words to live by: Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Hope isn't a strategy.

rockchalknation 8 years, 7 months ago

I hope we see some 8 or 9 man fronts...makes it much easier to implement the passing game. Whatever run/pass ratio we end up with, if teams are forced into 8 and 9 man fronts, our running game will have been serioiusly gashing the oppenents defense.

Kman_blue 8 years, 7 months ago

From what I heard, it was a clean break which resulted in his foot being in an unnatural position, but upon further examination, no serious ligament or tendon damage was sustained, so he should heal up in the same amount of time most broken bones in the leg take (assuming nothing has changed since April when he got hurt). 6-10 weeks in a cast, depending on the exact kind of break and severity. In rare cases this could lead to being in a cast for up to 12-14 weeks, and another 4-6 of rehab and probably a few more weeks to get fully up to football shape. This is week 10 since his injury FWIW.

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