Notebook: Jayhawks thin up front on defense this spring

Kansas defensive lineman Codey Cole III, left, and nose tackle Sam Burt work on technique, Thursday, April 4, 2019, at the indoor practice facility.

Kansas defensive lineman Codey Cole III, left, and nose tackle Sam Burt work on technique, Thursday, April 4, 2019, at the indoor practice facility.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

College football roster numbers are always at their thinnest in the spring, when the previous season’s seniors are no longer involved and most members of a given program’s recent signing class have yet to arrive on campus.

At University of Kansas practices these past few weeks, the lack of bodies is most evident up front on KU’s defense, where the Jayhawks lost such regulars as Daniel Wise, Brian Lipscomb, J.J. Holmes and Isi Holani from the 2018 team.

The Jayhawks’ spring roster only features four defensive ends: seniors Willie McCaleb, Codey Cole III and Darrius Moragne, and sophomore Jelani Arnold. Inside on the defensive line there are three players listed on KU’s roster as nose tackles: senior Jelani Brown, junior Sam Burt and redshirt freshman Spencer Roe.

At the so-called “Hawk” position, which is a spot that lines up wide and near the line of scrimmage within D.J. Eliot’s 3-4 scheme, currently has three players listed: seniors Najee Stevens-McKenzie and Azur Kamara and junior Kyron Johnson.

Kansas head coach Les Miles admitted earlier this week that the Jayhawks are a little thin up front in terms of numbers at the moment.

“We’ve moved some offensive personnel over there,” Miles said of some instances in practices when an offensive lineman may give the D-line unit an extra body. “And I think, honestly, it will be a benefit longterm, because we’ll have some guys coming in in this last class that we just signed that will provide depth and play significant snaps.”

As referenced by Miles, the program’s 2019 signing class included four defensive linemen: junior college transfers Malcolm Lee and Caleb Sampson and high school signees Marcus Harris and Da’Jon Terry.

Plus, the star of Miles’ initial recruiting class at KU, four-star Dallas linebacker Steven Parker, projects as a potential edge rusher.

“But I think our guys need to be in shape,” Miles said of KU’s current personnel at the front of the defense. “I think they need to come off the field a little wet, and you figure that they can do it when the game’s on the line — that is the key for me.”

Options at center

During the portions of spring practice that are open to media members, when players break off for individual work four KU offensive linemen swap repetition time at the center position: redshirt junior Api Mane, senior Andru Tovi, sophomore Joey Gilbertson and sophomore Jack Williams.

Asked earlier this week whether any of the potential centers have stood out or looked good, Miles hesitated to praise anyone in particular.

“I think we’re looking at getting the number of guys on the field that are the best, period. I don’t know that anybody’s really stood out there,” Miles offered. “But if we move a tackle to a center and then see what happens there — we did that a little bit and it didn’t work.”

The experiment Miles referenced came at the beginning of spring practices, when left tackle Hakeem Adeniji took some reps at center.

“I think our centers are capable,” Miles added of Mane, Tovi, Gilbertson and Williams. “They just have to take a step that they have not taken.”

KU greats of past to return

KU football announced on Thursday that two key offensive playmakers from the program’s most recent successful run will return next week for the team’s spring game festivities.

Both quarterback Todd Reesing and receiver Dezmon Briscoe are scheduled to be at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on April 13 to be a part of the K-Club Alumni Flag Football Game.

Reesing’s name joined the program’s Ring of Honor in 2018. By the end of his college career, in 2009, Reesing had racked up 11,194 career passing yards, 90 touchdown passes, 18 300-yard passing games and 11 other program records.

Reesing’s teammate from 2007-2009, Briscoe is KU’s all-time leader in touchdown catches (31), receiving yards (3,240) and 100-yard receiving games (14).

Both Reesing and Briscoe were members of KU’s Orange Bowl-winning 2007 team, which finished the season 12-1, under then-head coach Mark Mangino.

Late 1960s KU QB Bobby Douglass also is scheduled to appear.

The alumni game is scheduled for 5 p.m. on April 13, just ahead of the 6 p.m. spring game.