In addition to designing an offense that makes sense for the personnel on hand, new Kansas University football offensive coordinator John Reagan must develop young blockers into Big 12-ready offensive linemen.
It’s not an easy task for anyone, but it’s not as if Reagan hasn’t been there, done that. Reagan built quite the resume in his five seasons as O-line coach under Mark Mangino (2005-2009). In 2008, Reagan’s line featured a pair of red-shirt freshmen (Jeremiah Hatch and Jeff Spikes) at tackle and a former walk-on (Adrian Mayes) at one of the guard spots.
Reagan’s known throughout the industry as a relentless driller of fundamentals.
But the former Syracuse lineman faces quite the challenge in working his magic in time to provide ample protection for Jake Heaps, the favorite to earn the starting quarterback job, provided the coaches are confident he won’t face the same pass rush that hammered him into retreat mode the first two-thirds of last season.
On paper, KU looks as if it has enough strength and experience to get the job done in the middle three positions.
Center Joe Gibson impressed during his red-shirt season. Juco recruit Keyon Haughton, enrolling for second semester, will get a chance to show what he has at center and guard in spring football. Returning guards Ngalu Fusimalohi, Damon Martin and Mike Smithburg make that a position of strength.
It’s at tackle that KU appears frighteningly thin and could use a boost from a graduating transfer with one remaining year of eligibility. (Rice has no such players who fit the profile.) Sometimes, the most frank assessments of position outlooks are offered by players who have used up their eligibility, such as Gavin Howard, who spent five years in the program and made at least one start at all five O-line positions.
“Losing that experience always is going to hurt, but the good thing is we have the three guards coming back that all have good experience,” he said. “And I’m really expecting big things out of some of those young guys. (Brian) Beckmann, I’m expecting big things out of him. He’s just got to get his confidence down. He’s got great footwork. He’s long. He’s got a good body. I’m expecting big things out of Beckmann next year.”
A 6-foot-6, 300-pound 2012 graduate of Blue Valley West High, Beckmann was ranked third-best overall prospect in Kansas heading into a senior season he missed with a shoulder injury. A three-star recruit, he also was offered a scholarship from Kansas State. A tackle, he has three remaining years of eligibility and has yet to appear in a game.
Howard also praised Gibson and mentioned Bryan Peters, who will be a fourth-year junior, as a ready-for-prime-time tackle prospect.
“Peters, he came in a little soft as far as weight-room wise,” Howard said. “But he’s really started hitting the weight room a lot, so I’m expecting good things out of him next year. There’s definitely talent there. The real issue is going to be there are not very many guys.” Devon Williams, a 6-5, 340-pound tackle from Georgia Military, has made a verbal commitment. It would be nice to have the luxury of red-shirting juco linemen, but he’ll be a candidate for a starting position the day he walks on campus for summer conditioning.
At least the linemen will be taught well.
“Coach Reagan’s a good guy,” said Howard, recruited to KU by Reagan and instructed by him during his red-shirt season. “He plays smart football. He knew about angles and how to take angles to get up there. And he really worked well with younger guys like Tanner (Hawkinson) as a freshman, Spikes and Hatch as freshman tackles. He did a real good job with younger guys. I think he’ll do a good job of molding those younger guys like he did when he was at Kansas with (Mark) Mangino.”
Still, Reagan will need more materials than what the roster offers at the moment.