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Thursday, July 30, 2020

5 key questions for Kansas football heading into the start of the 2020 season

Kansas head coach Les Miles gets down as he works with the offensive line on Thursday, April 4, 2019 at the indoor practice facility.

Kansas head coach Les Miles gets down as he works with the offensive line on Thursday, April 4, 2019 at the indoor practice facility.

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One of the most unusual seasons in Kansas football history officially opens Friday, when the Jayhawks conduct their first official practice of 2020.

In addition to the typical football-related questions that surface each August, the upcoming season features a host of other unknowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s a quick look of the five most pressing questions about Kansas football as the Jayhawks begin preparations for the Aug. 29 season opener against Southern Illinois at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

1 – Will there even be a season?

No one actually knows the answer to that question as of today, but the Jayhawks and the Big 12 Conference are determined to play.

In an email sent to donors on Wednesday, KU Athletic Director Jeff Long spelled out a number of different things that KU officials have done to get ready for the season.

In addition to tweaking the schedule, KU officials have developed plans for contactless ticket procedures, social distancing in public spaces, mandatory mask wearing and hand hygiene stations throughout concourses.

As far as attendance, Long said KU is planning models around 100% capacity, 50% capacity and less.

Long also said the new season opener, which is a week earlier than previously scheduled, provides KU with a chance for the team to “be in a controlled environment” while also building in an off week between games 1 and 2.

All of those signs, and more, point to Kansas fully planning to play football next month.

2 – Do the Jayhawks have a quarterback?

Technically, they have three or four. We just don’t know how any of them will look when given the keys to the offense.

Returning backups Miles Kendrick and Thomas MacVittie are likely to open preseason camp as the top contenders to replace Carter Stanley. And there are things to like about both of them.

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Kansas quarterback Miles Kendrick attempts to run through the Central Michigan defense on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant, Mich.

Experience, however, is not one of them, and it would behoove the Kansas coaching staff to settle on a starter sooner rather than later so the winner of the job can start to develop chemistry with the first-team offense.

Freshman Jalon Daniels remains an intriguing option at the position, but it’s hard to imagine that Daniels has enough time to move to the top of the depth chart by the season opener.

There are plenty of questions about this team, but if KU can’t answer the QB question, none of the others will matter.

3 – How will KU reshape its defense?

Five of KU’s top pass rushers from 2019 are no longer on the roster, leaving a sizable hole on the D-Line depth chart.

Beyond that, the Jayhawks also will be fielding a mostly-new starting secondary, with safeties Mike Lee and Bryce Torneden and cornerback Hasan Defense all gone.

The transition will leave the KU coaching staff counting on several new players all over the field on defense, but a handful of those faces should be familiar.

Redshirt freshman Steven Parker is poised for a big season after taking over for Azur Kamara. And veteran defensive backs Kyle Mayberry, Davon Ferguson and Co Harris (if eligible) all have enough experience to keep KU’s secondary on solid footing.

Each spot also features a handful of freshmen who could find their way onto the field sooner rather than later given the opportunity for early playing time that exists.

4 – Is there enough help for junior RB Pooka Williams Jr.?

The easy answer here is yes. KU has a lot of skill players to like who can help take some of the burden off of Williams and keep him from feeling like he has to deliver a highlight-reel run every time he touches the ball.

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(Boston, MA, 09/13/19) Kansas Jayhawks running back Pooka Williams Jr. (1) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Boston College Eagles during the third quarter of an NCAA football game at Boston College in Boston, Mass., on Friday, September 13, 2019.

But as good as tailback Velton Gardner and wideouts Andrew Parchment, Stephon Robinson Jr., and Kwamie Lassiter II, have proven they can be, it still will come down to whether KU’s offensive line and quarterback play can be good enough to keep teams from keying on Williams all game every game.

If they can, Williams could be in line to deliver his best season yet and offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon could open up his entire playbook in his first full season as KU’s offensive boss.

5 – How can Les Miles build on 2019?

Most fans and critics are always going to base things off of wins and losses, which could put Miles and the Jayhawks in a tough spot in 2020, especially if the Big 12 makes any major scheduling changes and goes with conference-only season or allows for just one nonconference game.

Because of that, Miles’ best chance at building on his 3-9 debut season is not by pushing the win total to four or five, but by continuing to improve the product on the field.

Adding a couple of classes worth of high school talent to the program has been key and now Miles is entering the stage where he can begin to develop those younger players in practices and games.

If the Jayhawks can be competitive in most games and can identify some young pieces that could help them win games in 2021 and beyond, Miles could still take a step forward this season even if the win total dips below last season’s number.

Comments

Dane Pratt 2 months, 3 weeks ago

A year ago we were led to believe the race was neck and neck between Stanley and MacVittie. How much of a drop off can MacVittie be if it was really that close. And given a year of maturity, it's possible he's an upgrade.

Matt Tait 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I suppose anything is possible, but I don't think it's advisable to go into this season thinking MacVittie (or any of KU's QBs) will be an upgrade over Stanley in 2019.

Carter had a strong season last year and entered the season with 29 games of experience under his belt. These guys don't have near that much experience and are going to need some time to settle in and figure it all out.

Plus, they haven't had any time at all to get ready. No spring ball. Limited summer workouts. That's really going to have an impact.

Jim Stauffer 2 months, 2 weeks ago

OTOH, Dearmon got Stanley to 61% pass completions a level never before dreamed of for him. Question is after working on Kendrick (I don't think MacVittie is a serious possibility) what might he do there. I do believe we have an OC and QB coach who can actually produce results. In other words, the guys we have will be better with him guiding them than anywhere else they could be. Watch out for Daniels. He is the only one Dearmon has personally chosen.

Dirk Medema 2 months, 3 weeks ago

There was one article midway through last year with a quote from Carter that seemed incredibly important to me both for his play last year and explanation for the previous years. He said that part way through the summer he stopped trying to make every pass be a homerun and switched to a mentality of just trying to move the offense. I would guess that our current candidates don’t need to make the same adjustment, but it is encouraging to realize these guys can have light switch moments. The lack of practice time definitely hurts. It is encouraging that the skill position players are such a strength. The O-line has some holes to fill?

Dirk Medema 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The D gets a big boost over most of last year by having a healthy Dru Prox?

It would be a big hit to lose Co, though understandable in light of the info from pre-chaos. Guessing the team has a no comment position on suspended players.

Jim Stauffer 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Frankly Harris has underperformed anyway. Possibly his off field problems explain his on field deficiencies. If he can play then bring it on. If not, next man up.

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