Objectively projecting a college football team’s performance based on information coming out of fall camp requires using the same filter for tales told at major-league baseball spring training camps.
In both scenarios, the teams haven’t lost a game. The injuries haven’t mounted. Athletes injured in past seasons are healthy and ready to go. Young players are a year older and presumably a year better. Experienced athletes spread wisdom.
And just about every team looks better than it did when it was last seen ending a season or breaking a camp.
Even using the filter that constantly reminds us that training camps inflate optimism by their very nature, I had no trouble believing first-year Kansas University linebackers coach Kevin Kane when he said he feels a great deal better now about the position’s depth than he did in April. Back then, as an experienced, healthy linebacker, junior Courtney Arnick had very little help.
It’s only one position group on a team lacking depth in so many areas, but any good news is welcome for a program starting from scratch.
Five things needed to happen for the linebacker position to undergo an upgrade from frighteningly thin to adequate. So far, the Jayhawks are 5-for-5.
No. 1: The coaching staff needed to scour the country to identify a linebacker who could graduate with remaining eligibility and woo him to Kansas. That happened in late April, when Marcquis Roberts announced his intention to transfer from South Carolina, where he started 14 games in the past two seasons, to Kansas for his remaining two years of eligibility.
No. 2: Roberts needed to graduate and recover from various injuries in time to establish himself as a veteran presence in practice. He has done so.
“Marcquis has done a great job,” Kane said Monday. “I’m very excited about what he can do. He’s a very instinctual football player. He just gets it. There’s not a lot of coaching involved with what he’s able to do. He just reads the plays and finds the football. I’m excited to see him come game day.”
Kansas linebackers coach Kevin Kane speaks with media members on Aug. 17, 2015, about the Jayhawks' weekend scrimmage and what he has seen thus far out of the KU linebackers, including Kyron Watson, Marcquis Roberts and Joe Dineen.
Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen called Roberts “a legitimate BCS player.”
No. 3: Local boy Joe Dineen had to bounce back from a torn labrum (shoulder) that kept him out of spring practices and needed to learn a new position quickly.
Dineen said he feels 100 percent recovered from the injury and added he likes linebacker because it rewards playing with a “psycho” edge. Dineen played running back, quarterback and safety in high school. Last season, as a true freshman, he started the season at running back and was moved to safety for the final two games.
Is he thinking like a linebacker yet?
“He’s getting there,” Kane said. “I’m very excited with where he’s come. He missed spring, so this is his spring ball and fall camp all in one. And I think he’s been able to take it all in and soak it all up. He’s getting that mentality a little bit as far as, ‘I’m going to go run and hit somebody,’ instead of being on the back end, reading and analyzing stuff.
“He had a good scrimmage (Saturday.) He made a few big plays, and he’s becoming more physical as camp has gone on. I think he’ll have a big part in what we’re going to do here.”
No. 4: Kyron Watson needed to change his body, tone it up. He looks completely different from the spring, when he carried too much weight and not in a muscular way. Not a burner when in top shape, he looked extremely slow when out of shape. Now that he has dropped fat in favor of muscle, Watson has a shot at working his way onto the two-deep depth chart, where his strong football instincts can translate to productive play.
“He’s a hitter, and I know he was a highly touted guy coming out of high school, but he’s going to have to earn what he gets,” Kane said. “And he’s had a good fall camp.”
Kane, who praised Watson for changing his body, “just from the spring,” revealed Watson had an interception during Saturday’s scrimmage.
No. 5: Schyler Miles needed to withstand the pain that comes with playing football with a knee shy on cartilage. He has passed that test so far, drawing praise from the coaching staff for strong instincts and punishing hits.