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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

KU football shuffles offensive line once again

Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps runs the offense against Texas Tech during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps runs the offense against Texas Tech during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

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For the fourth time since Sept. 10, the Kansas University football team will take a new-look offensive line into game week, as the Jayhawks prepare for Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff at TCU.

This time, the biggest change comes at center, where senior Gavin Howard, 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, has been inserted as the starter and asked to save KU from the failed experiment of using junior Pat Lewandowski and sophomore Dylan Admire to snap the ball.

“Some of those, they looked like me snapping,” said KU coach Charlie Weis, explaining the reason for the change. “And I was never any good, in case you’re wondering.”

There was, of course, more behind this change than getting distance from the Weis-like snaps. For one, Howard is an experienced lineman who has played all three positions up front. And his size gives him a better chance to hold up against opposing defensive linemen. Lewandowski, though taller, is lighter than Howard. And Admire is both lighter and shorter.

Asked to identify what issues have plagued KU’s centers thus far — Howard actually is the fourth guy the Jayhawks have tried if you count junior guard Mike Smithburg’s audition during spring practice — Weis painted a pretty stark picture.

“It’s not the identification,” Weis said. “We have smart guys there. These are all 4.0 (GPA) type of students, so intelligence is not the issue. The issue is, as soon as you snap the ball, you’ve got a guy 300-plus pounds ready to hit you in the mouth.”

While Howard’s addition to this week’s depth chart takes him from nowhere-to-be found to the center of attention, the rest of the line experienced less drastic changes. Smithburg and fellow junior college transfer Ngalu Fusimalohi kept their spots at right and left guard, respectively — those two have started all four games in the same spots — and Lewandowski moved out to left tackle, where he played last spring, and Sterling to right tackle, where he played last season.

“I don’t think for those guys it’s gonna be much of a change,” Weis said. “Probably the biggest thing is can Gavin hold up at center? That’s the position we’ve kind of been held hostage by.”

Turzilli moves up

Three days after catching a late touchdown in KU’s loss to Texas Tech, and 364 days after last appearing atop the depth chart at his position, junior wide receiver Andrew Turzilli is back on top.

At 6-3, 195 pounds, Turzilli has taken over the Z receiver spot, in place of Tre’ Parmalee (5-10, 175) and Rodriguez Coleman (6-3, 195), who remain listed behind him.

Weis said Tuesday that Turzilli’s rapid rise was the byproduct of three good weeks of practice and added that he fell in the first place because of a bad offseason.

“Andrew was a little bit of a disappointment in the spring time,” Weis said. “He’s one of our two fastest wide receivers with some size, some athleticism, some polish, some ball skills; he just wasn’t playing good. ... He was a front-line receiver starting out, and he’s put himself back into that situation.”

Pierson update

As expected, KU junior Tony Pierson was not listed on this week’s depth chart and is not expected to play against TCU because of the concussion he suffered in the loss to Tech.

“Tony will be back,” Weis said. “I don’t know when, but he will be back. Fortunately, the MRI came back negative. He’s got a headache, a sore neck and is walking around like an old man. Other than that, there’s nothing wrong with him.”

Asked how Pierson’s absence would affect the team, Weis was honest and took time to praise Pierson’s replacement, junior Brandon Bourbon.

“It hurts,” Weis said. “Because Tony really has gotten better each week, and he’s actually starting to play really, really well. At the same time, Brandon has played really well for us. He’ll have an added role now. More of the burden will fall on Bourbon than ever before. He’s a different player, but he’s pretty good.”

Run game bummer

With the offensive line in a state of flux, KU’s previously potent rushing attack has suffered. KU’s stacked backfield remains on the roster, but the gaping holes and hard-earned yards have not been there.

Through four weeks, KU has averaged 137 yards per contest, but just 3.7 yards per rush, a number that took a hit with last week’s 37-carries-for-53-yards effort in the loss to Texas Tech.

“So far, our play in the run game in general has been a big disappointment,” said Weis, whose team averaged 211 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry in 2012. “I don’t want to single out just the offensive line, because there’s a lot of elements involved, but it’s been a frustration because it should be a foundation of who we are.”

Faifili still sidelined

Junior linebacker Samson Faifili, who missed the past two games because of injury, will miss another and may be out longer than that.

“He looks like he’s a ways from playing,” said Weis of the juco transfer, who opened the season as a starter. “Every time we get him going, he reaggravates himself. He’s really not that different than (injured running back) Taylor (Cox). In other words, he’s another guy who’s a potential medical red-shirt if things keep going the way they’re going.”

Comments

Keith Hummel 6 months, 1 week ago

If Gavin Howard can do a decent job at Center then I feel cautiously optimistic this offense can become productive. Admire was getting pushed around in there against Tech, and Lewandowski wasn't any better in prior weeks. With Howard's size and strength I don't think he will get pushed around as badly, but the question is can he hike the ball? My guess is Howard has been practicing the center position for quite some time, and this is not as frightening a move as it seems on the surface. As for Lewandowski, I think left tackle is a more natural fit because I think his height works against him on the interior of the line (despite what Coach Weis said), where it's all about leverage, but works in his favor at tackle, where it's largely about quickness and keeping your man in front of you. Sterling should do very well at right tackle, since he played there last year. And based on what Weis said, Smithburg and Fusimalohi are starting to settle in at the guard positions, so those guys are only going to get better. There are reasons for hope, but I'll be watching Gavin Howard closely.

AtlJaybird

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6 months, 1 week ago

Interesting info here, wonder if these moves will make a difference on Saturday.

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kay_you 6 months, 1 week ago

Saw the Frontline piece on football head injuries last night. Not a pretty picture. I don't know what mother would let her son play tackle football after watching this documentary.

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CrystalJones 6 months, 1 week ago

I really hate to see all the negativity, and I don't think it's justified. I still see us going 6-6, with wins over TCU (yes, we will finally win a road game and end the Big 12 streak -- their great QB is out), WVU, ISU & K-Crap (how can a conference champion fall so far in just one year?).

OK, so we don't make a bowl this season. But sheesh, 6-6 for KU at this particular point in time? That's a great year, and a very positive sign for next year and beyond. Rock Chalk!

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AZJHWK 6 months, 1 week ago

Matt - Thanks for your reporting! You are good at giving us football diehards some reading material throughout the year. I'm an old fart and am wondering if I will live long enough to see another KU Bowl game! That might be an exaggeration, but the frustration of watching inept, poorly executed football teams year after year is deflating, I hardly yell at the TV anymore! I am trying to remember the Bowl games we have been to over the last 40 plus years, I went to the Orange Bowl in 69, I think there were a couple of minor bowls until they beat UCLA in Hawaii around 99, another wait until MM took us to a couple. That is pretty pathetic, I'm disappointed in a university that will allow that to happen. I suppose we should be happy the BBall team wins, and I guess that is what most of the alums care about. Sadly, reading the football posts here this time of year it sounds like Cubs fans,"wait till next year".
I won't be facebooking either. But will be reading.

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Doug Cramer 6 months, 1 week ago

The root source of the problems in the trenches is the lack of talent. You can shuffle the O-line and D-line all you want...but improvement will be hard to come by until we get some studs in this program.

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AzHawk97 6 months, 1 week ago

Hey Matt - I just wanted to let you know how much I have appreciated the quality of your reporting and especially your interaction with us common folk down here in the comments. With the new policy tomorrow and my stubborn refusal to get a facebook account, this will be my last day to comment. Good luck to you and everyone at KUsports and Rock Chalk!

Thanks, Jared Challacombe

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dumbarton 6 months, 1 week ago

Weis says the issue with our centering is a 300 lb guy getting ready to hit you in the mouth. WTF? Every center in football confronts this and we are using it as an excuse? Are you fricking kidding me? He might as well add that our wide receivers can't get open because they are afraid of crossing routes. Sounds like we have a candy ass coach that's passing his candy ass attitude on down to his players

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Pbbut 6 months, 1 week ago

I, too, am hopeful. There are a lot a reasons for the failure of the offense, but here we are heading into game five with our two starting WRs with four catches for 70 yards and one TD, according to the box scores on this site. Not good.

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Brandon Mahon 6 months, 1 week ago

To bad we have Harwell sitting on the sidelines waiting....

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AzHawk97 6 months, 1 week ago

James Sims has got to be the most under appreciated and utilized "star" running back in the country. Only nine carries? Going with the empty backfield and not having Sims back there sets the tone for the game. KU can still run that set with a back and keep the defense honest by handing the ball off every once in a while as well. And if the offense wanted to get totally crazy they could try some play action and help out the receivers a bit. We know the line is not good, but abandoning your workhorse doesn't help either. Although 3.7 yards a carry isn't great, doing that three downs in a row (with no false start penalties) moves the chains. ..and the clock.

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NebraskaJayhawk 6 months, 1 week ago

Glad to see Turzilli get a chance. I still think he's our best option at WR. Been saying that.

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W Keith Swinehart II 6 months, 1 week ago

Matt, I appreciate your articles! You report objectively, factually, hopefully and optimistically. The hopes are not always achieved on schedule, but progress is being made, albeit slowly. It is difficult to remain patient, but one must always have hope.

I have listened to Coach Weis for two years. I like him. He says it like he sees it and thinks it. He has loyalty and faith in his players. He isn't afraid to make changes and try new things. He does think outside the box, sometimes calling "dumb" plays. He does give his players discretion and accountability. When things go wrong he shoulders the blame. Trying to resurrect a flagging program isn't a popularity contest. Sometimes the reporter of these things suffers along with the coach.

Keep the faith, Matt, and continue to show us the reasons for hope.

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Jason Keller 6 months, 1 week ago

Gavin Howard is pretty smart. If I recall, I took Math 526 with him a couple years ago. That class was called Statistics for Engineers and Scientists, or something to that effect. It was a stat class that had prerequisites of Calc I and Calc II, it was very challenging. I regrettably got a C in the class. Gavin did better than me I believe.

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6 months, 1 week ago

I wonder if there is any chance of getting a medical redshirt for Pierson. If he can’t play the next couple of games, we may be better holding off and getting another (possibly more promising) year for him.

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Janet Scott 6 months, 1 week ago

Santa Claus is short, but 300+ pounds. Maybe he would be interested in playing in the KU O-line till December, when he gets real busy. Wouldn't hurt to ask. Call him, Charlie. You'll find him at the North Pole.

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79ictjhawk 6 months, 1 week ago

Not expecting a big improvement, but I hope these changes help. Weis really needs to work on the false start penalties, it creates too much of a burden for a week offense.

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