Kansas offensive line slowly growing in stature and experience
Head coach David Beaty and offensive line coach Zach Yenser both have marveled the speed of true freshman offensive tackle Earl Bostick from Barnwell, S.C.
And it’s not the only trait that excites the coaches about his potential.
“The thing I love about Earl is he’s not afraid to put his hands on people and get physical,” Yenser said.
Bostick represents the progress Kansas has made at O-line because he won’t be rushed into games before he’s ready to face Big 12 competition. He’s likey to spend the year as a redshirt, building his body, refining his technique and learning how to manage his time as a first-year student-athlete.
Kansas didn’t have that luxury the past two seasons because the cupboard was so bare at tackle.
Clyde McCauley started three games at left tackle as a true freshman in 2015. Larry Hughes started nine games at right tackle as a true freshman in the same season. McCauley starts the season second on the depth chart at left tackle and Hughes is battling Chris Hughes for the starting right guard spot.
Bostick, who is 6-foot-6 and weighs 270 pounds and originally made a verbal commitment to Appalachian State, might be a better prospect than either Larry Hughes or McCauley, but KU isn’t nearly as desperate up front as in 2015.
Plus, the Jayhawks have more bodies battling for snaps.
The 2016 line was better than in ‘15, but not good enough for KU to run the ball with any consistency.
Beaty and Yenser both insist the line will be significantly better than in 2016. Good enough to keep the quarterbacks’ jerseys clean? Good enough to establish a decent running game? We’ll see.
“We’re heavier, but I think we’re moving better,” said Yenser, a big fan of first-year strength and conditioning coach Zac Woodfin. “I think we’re bending better. And we’re just stronger, which is huge, huge for us up front.”
KU again had a true freshman at left tackle last season, when Hakeem Adeniji played at 265 pounds. He’s up to 290 pounds and is a serious student of the game, extremely bright and a very driven, confident individual.
Playing next to Adeniji, left guard Jayson Rhodes is the lone senior starter on the line. At 6-4, 307 pounds, Rhodes appears to have improved his conditioning and will also need to improve in the area of drawing penalties. If he doesn’t, Andru Tovi, a shophomore juco transfer from Hawaii, could nudge him out of the starting spot. Tovi beat out Malik Clark for the second spot on the depth chart.
Third-year sophomore Mesa Ribordy has center locked up and Jacob Bragg beat out Hunter Saulsbury for the backup job. At right guard, Larry Hughes brings more experience, and Chris Hughes, a redshirt freshman, more brute strength. Beaty said he anticipates Chris Hughes starting Saturday.
Sophomore Antione Frazier opened fall camp as the No. 1 right tackle, but bigger, older-by-two-years Charles Baldwin seemed to work his way out of the coach's doghouse with a solid fall camp. Still, Beaty said Frazier likely will start Saturday.
Senior guard Zach Hannon, a graduate transfer who was limited to special-teams duty during his Nebraska career, is available at guard should injuries mount.
This will be the best of the three offensive lines Yenser has coached at Kansas and not as good as next season’s, given that Rhodes is the only senior whose name is on the two-deep.
“They’re smart dudes and they love each other and that’s really good,” Yenser said. “It’s probably my favorite group of guys that I’ve been around since I’ve been coaching. I love them and it’s been an absolute blast.”
The O-line definitely is headed in the right direction, growing in size and experience every year, but it remains one of the younger offensive lines in the Big 12. It still might be a year away from being a considered a solid, Big 12-caliber O-line.
“They want to be a good unit. They want to be a great unit,” Yenser said. “They talk about it all the time and they know what it’s going to take. They know they’re not there yet, but they know that they can be. And it just comes down to details.”