One of the quickest ways for the Kansas football team to make a meaningful and noticeable improvement in 2016 and beyond is to transform the offensive line into a force.
Second-year O-Line coach Zach Yenser knows this and he emphasizes to his linemen every day their importance on this team.
“I tell ’em all the time,” Yenser began. “And I truly believe this, ‘You guys are the most important position on this football team. This team goes as you go.’”
To that end, the O-Line has been doing nothing but going so far this summer. After a strong spring during which the Jayhawks not only showed great improvement over the final week of the 2015 season but also developed a consistent first five — left to right, it reads: Clyde McCauley, Jayson Rhodes, Joe Gibson, Jacob Bragg, D’Andre Banks — Yenser developed a summer program that will continue to emphasize every detail of what goes into performing well up front on Saturdays.
KU’s linemen will run the program entirely on their own, with upperclassmen Gibson, Banks and Jordan Shelley-Smith leading the way, and it will run in addition to the daily team workouts with strength coach Je’Ney Jackson.
“Fundamentals,” Yenser said. “Fundamentals every single day. Feet, hands, hat placement, aiming points. Two days of all fundamentals and then the last day more scheme stuff.”
The line, at least for these summer workouts, is broken down into three groups. Seven upperclassmen, seven younger guys and four freshmen. Every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, those guys pound and compete against each other in drills designed to emphasize everything from the first step after the snap to blitz pick-up.
“They’re running practice,” Yenser said. “And it’s good for them because they coach each other and they learn how to take coaching from their teammates and not get all (mad) when this dude’s telling you, ‘Hey, you didn’t pick the right footwork.’”
That aspect, along with the everyday grind in the weight room, only helps further strengthen the bond that Yenser, a former offensive lineman himself, said is so critical to the success of an O-Line.
“I’ve told these guys since the first day I got here, ‘It has to be a brotherhood. You guys have to take control of this. I can’t be your motivation because you’re not doing it for me,’” Yenser said. “That brotherhood, it’s not the only thing that will win you games, but I know if it’s not there, you won’t win.”
Yenser has said from the start that his goal is to get the best five linemen on the field, regardless of position. To that end, the Jayhawks also are doing a lot of cross-training, where guards learn to play tackle and centers learn to play guard. That will continue throughout the summer and into the season, and, the hope, according to Yenser, is that it will lead to a group that has legitimate depth.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “But we’re headed in the right direction. Our guys’ attitudes are just phenomenal. They want to be great. And they’re starting to get a little bit of presence about ’em that says, ‘Hey, we’re the freakin’ offensive line.’”