Kansas University junior Riley Spencer has missed the past week, and will miss another, because of a knee injury, KU coach Charlie Weis said Monday.
Spencer, who was battling with Aslam Sterling to be the Jayhawks’ starting right tackle, entered the fall as one of the few offensive linemen on KU’s roster with game experience, but Weis said his absence was not devastating for KU’s O-line.
“He is rehabbing right now,” Weis said. “And he should be back to practice next Tuesday.”
With Spencer out, junior Gavin Howard has moved over from right guard to right tackle and former defensive lineman Randall Dent has moved into Howard’s spot at right guard with the first team. Although the competition at right tackle has not been decided, Weis said getting multiple guys reps at different spots can only help.
“It’s one of the ways you build position flexibility,” he said. “You don’t always have 10 guys that you’re gonna play a game with on the offensive line. So sometimes, to get the best players, people are gonna be a swing tackle.”
Sophomore Pat Lewandowski is another guy like that. He currently is practicing at both left tackle and left guard. As for Howard, he plays right guard when Sterling is in at right tackle and right tackle when Dent is in at right guard.
The fact that both Dent and Lewandowski have worked their way into the mix on the offensive line after playing defense in the spring speaks to both their progress and Weis’ eye.
“In spring ball, I thought (they were) offensive (linemen) the whole time,” Weis said. “It’s just we didn’t have enough defensive linemen to get through spring ball.”
As for Sterling, Weis said the 6-foot-5, 360-pound juco transfer was coming on strong.
“He’s made a lot of progress,” Weis said. “But we don’t believe in just giving anything to anyone. You have to earn your playing time. He’s getting better and getting more and more reps.”
Two players day-to-day
Anthony McDonald and sophomore defensive back Brian Maura have been riding exercise bikes during the early portion of recent practices, and Weis said Monday that both were day to day with minor injuries. He also said he was making sure they wanted to return.
“I make it as bad as it can possibly be when you’re not practicing so guys want to return to practice,” Weis said. “It’s worse if you’re not practicing than if you’re practicing. I promise you. It’s not close.”
Although it took a little longer to get him here than he would have liked, Weis said the wait for defensive tackle Jordan Tavai was worth it.
Tavai, who reported to camp late last week, has impressed his new head coach in the early stages of fall camp.
“Surprisingly good shape,” Weis said. “I was expecting less, to be perfectly honest with you. He weighed in at 291 and I was expecting less than what we got. I was very happy to see his conditioning.”
Weis has said throughout the offseason that Tavai could play at defensive tackle or defensive end. Now that he has him, that hasn’t changed.
“It’s nice to have inside guys that have some girth to them that can move,” Weis said. “Also, it’s nice to have defensive ends that look like defensive ends. You usually get one or the other. But he is what we thought he would be, and we can play him at strongside defensive end or we can play him at three technique.”
As for the final defensive lineman still waiting to report, juco transfer Ty McKinney has said repeatedly on his Twitter account that he would be in Lawrence today. Weis said Monday that he did not know McKinney’s exact arrival time but that it was contingent on McKinney finishing up schoolwork.
“Coming here will be easy for him,” Weis said. “This’ll be the easiest thing he’s done in months.”
With Tony Pierson entrenched as the starting tailback and James Sims out of the picture for the season’s first three weeks because of a suspension, junior Taylor Cox and sophomore Brandon Bourbon are in a tight battle for carries behind Pierson.
“It’s a shame that James isn’t able to play for the first three games because he’s had a wonderful camp,” Weis said. “In the competition with those other guys, the guy that has a slight edge is Taylor Cox. He’s had a terrific camp. He’s not exactly the same player that Brandon is. Brandon has more size and more girth. But if we were gonna put a guy in right now, by a slight edge, it would be Taylor over Brandon.”
Asked why Cox had the advantage, Weis said, “production.”
“You give ’em the same amount of carries, one guy rushes for 50 yards, the other guy rushes for 25, with the same linemen. It’s really a production game. The safest thing you do when you evaluate players is you just go by what you see.”
Weis said sophomore Marquis Jackson, a potential fullback, is sitting fourth behind Pierson, Cox and Bourbon.
Bringing the heat
It’s been several years since the KU defense had a pass rush that opponents feared. Whether that changes this season because of the new faces on the defensive line or because of the new attitude of the head coach, Weis promised to pressure opposing quarterbacks this fall.
“What I said to the defensive staff this morning, ‘If there’s not (a pass rush), plan on bringing it,’” Weis said. “I said, ‘If you can get there with four, fine. But if you think I’m gonna sit there and watch a team go up and down the field on us with us not bringing it...’ I’ll never tell the defense what to call, but I’ll tell ’em how much heat to bring if I’m seeing a quarterback stand back there all day just picking us apart.”