When a coaching change takes place, it’s common for football players who had earned starting jobs to worry that their status could be in jeopardy. Those who feel buried lower on the depth chart see the change as a second chance.
In many cases with this Kansas University football team, players who were in good stead with Mark Mangino and fell out of favor with Tuner Gill are back in good standing under Charlie Weis.
Mangino was so high on safety Lubbock Smith’s tackling ability Smith started games as a true freshman late in the season. Gill’s vision of a safety put a premium on speed and the tougher Smith lost his job to the faster Keeston Terry. Smith has returned to the top of the depth chart under Weis. Terry transferred to Pittsburg State.
Under Mangino, linebacker Huldon Tharp earned freshman All-American honors per Phil Steele. He started the first seven Big 12 games. Sidelined by injury in 2010, Tharp didn’t start a game for Gill in 2011 and was special-teams captain. Tharp not only has regained his position in the starting lineup, he consistently has gained praise from the coaching staff throughout Camp Charlie.
Other than Steven Johnson, MVP of the defense, KU didn’t get much production from the linebacker spot in 2011, which made many wonder why Ben Heeney was viewed strictly as a special teams player as a freshman. Moved from outside linebacker to the inside, Heeney has worked with the first team on the days Notre Dame transfer Anthony McDonald has been sidelined by injury during camp.
For last season’s starting middle linebacker, Darius Willis, the coaching change has resulted in a tumble off the depth chart. Willis started all 12 games in 2011. As a true freshman for Gill at Buffalo, he started two games before suffering a season-ending injury in the fourth game. After Jeff Quinn, Gill’s replacement at Buffalo, demoted Willis to second team, Willis decided to transfer to Kansas for a reunion with Gill.
Even in the case of Tanner Hawkinson, the team’s most highly regarded NFL prospect, a difference of opinion existed. He started all 12 games he played for Mangino, all 24 for Gill and was a starter from Day 1 with Weis. But there was a difference of opinion on where to play him. Again, Mangino and Weis come down on the same side, opposite Gill. Hawkinson played right tackle in his junior season, the second under Gill, whose offensive line coach J.B. Grimes said he thought Hawkinson had developed bad technique habits on the left side. What were those habits?
“I don’t really know what the technique errors were, but they told me I was better fitted for the right side,” Hawkinson said.
The errors must have vanished. Weis, as did Mangino, wants Hawkinson, now 300 solid pounds, protecting the quarterback’s blind side.