It’s been a long time since the Kansas football team put together an offensive line that consistently gave its quarterback ample time to survey the field and its running backs reliable paths to chunks of yardage.
While Les Miles isn’t predicting his first KU football team will buck the program’s recent history of O-line issues, the program’s new head coach actually felt optimistic about the offense’s most important blockers as the Jayhawks opened preseason camp.
“I’ll tell you one thing. They’re a big, good looking group of men,” Miles said.
With only five August practices behind them at this point, there’s no indication — publicly at least — about what KU’s depth chart looks like. But when the Jayhawks wrapped spring practices in April there were five upperclassmen taking first team reps: senior left tackle Hakeem Adeniji (6-foot-5, 300 pounds), junior left guard Malik Clark (6-4, 315), junior center Api Mane (6-3, 327), junior right guard Chris Hughes (6-4, 315) and senior right tackle Clyde McCauley III (6-5, 310).
From a size standpoint, the reserves rotating in looked more like Power Five offensive linemen than the ones KU has been able to put on the field for years, as well, such as seniors Andru Tovi (6-3, 310), Antione Frazier (6-5, 300) and Kevin Feder (6-9, 300), juniors Earl Bostick Jr. (6-6, 290) and Adagio Lopeti (6-4, 310), sophomore Joey Gilbertson (6-4, 290) and redshirt freshman Jacobi Lott (6-4, 320).
The linemen all will all have to prove their head coach right in games this coming fall, but Miles credited O-line coach Luke Meadows for prepping them during the past several months and putting them in a position where Miles expects them to be able to execute.
“I think Luke’s done a really good job,” Miles said of Meadows, “kind of molding the line and getting the different pieces — pass protection, the different style of blitzes that can befall you — and putting that line together.”
Adeniji, who has started all 36 games of his career heading into his senior season, explained how Meadows’ approach helped a veteran group of O-linemen make progress.
“He’s real straightforward. He’s a smart guy. Really, he’s a football junkie,” Adeniji shared. “He just really wants us to get honed in on our technique and things like that.”
Adeniji attests that all of the players in his position group made important strides during the spring, with Meadows’ help. Pressed to single out the lineman who developed the most, Adeniji pointed to KU’s new likely starting center, Mane.
“We threw him in there at center and he’s doing a fantastic job,” Adeniji said. “Especially with everything we’ve had to learn and improve. He’s done a really fantastic job and I’m excited to see what he does come the fall.”
The KU roster now lists 17 players on the offensive line, following a recent switch for redshirt junior Reuben Lewis (6-4, 325), who has joined the defensive line group. As bullish as Miles seems to be about the O-line, he also expects to see improvement from the unit between now and the Aug. 31 season opener versus Indiana State.
“I think our line’s going to be good. Again, it takes time,” Miles said.
In total, from KU’s first preseason practice this past Friday to its final camp session on Aug. 25, the Jayhawks will practice 19 times. Not only does Miles expect fatigue to accompany that schedule for his offensive linemen — and all of the players, really — but he wants them to experience some level of weariness through it all, because he trusts that will be an important piece in their growth as players.
“They’re going to continue to be fatigued, and they’re going to get better,” Miles forecasted. “That feel is something that camp gives you.”
If the head coach is right and KU’s offensive line finally is an advantage for a change instead of a liability, the men doing the blocking plan on celebrating long runs with not only sophomore Pooka Williams, but also senior Khalil Herbert and junior Dom Williams.
Adeniji said on some teams when the No. 1 rusher gets worn down, a backup comes in and the run game ceases to be a threat. This KU backfield, though, the senior left tackle added, isn’t like that.
“We’ve got three guys that can flat out go,” Adeniji said of the running backs. “We love that (as O-linemen), because if we’re running the ball and having success we can just keep going and keep going and wear teams down.”
No. 67: Kevin Feder — 6-9, 300
No. 74: Clyde McCauley III — 6-5, 310
No. 75: Antione Frazier — 6-5, 300
No. 77: Andru Tovi — 6-3, 310
No. 78: Hakeem Adeniji — 6-5, 300
No. 58: Api Mane — 6-3, 327
No. 61: Malik Clark — 6-4, 315
No. 68: Earl Bostick Jr. — 6-6, 290
No. 71: Adagio Lopeti — 6-4, 310
No. 76: Chris Hughes — 6-4, 315
No. 65: Jack Williams — 6-3, 280
No. 79: Joey Gilbertson — 6-4, 290
No. 59: Jack Murphy — 6-9, 275
No. 64: Jalan Robinson — 6-4, 300
No. 70: Nick Williams — 6-8, 290
No. 71: Jacobi Lott — 6-4, 320
No. 73: Jack Werner — 6-2, 280