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Kansas offensive line slowly growing in stature and experience

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Team KU offensive lineman Jayson Rhodes (65) looks to fend off Team Jayhawk defensive tackle DeeIsaac Davis (99) during the third quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium.

Team KU offensive lineman Jayson Rhodes (65) looks to fend off Team Jayhawk defensive tackle DeeIsaac Davis (99) during the third quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

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Bostick, who is 6-foot-6 and weighs 270 pounds and originally made a verbal commitment to Appalachian State, might be a better prospect than either Larry Hughes or McCauley, but KU isn’t nearly as desperate up front as in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.”

Comments

Brett McCabe 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Assuming that we climb out of the hole of being the laughingstock of the league this year (I literally heard Lee Corso laugh on a football show about Texas losing to us), it's going to be interesting to watch how we move from being competent to being competitive and, eventually/hopefully, into being a contender.

Basically, the burning building has been doused, the debris cleared a way and a foundation is in place. So what type of new structure is going to go up?

A lot, a lot, a lot depends on this year. We need enough wins to gain momentum and to build a strong recruiting class. We will return a lot of the roster but we need 2 or 3 difference makers in the incoming class and we need a top-50 class overall.

On the field, an absolute drubbing of SEMO is just about mandatory - even if the staff hides some plays from CMSU. We need a strong, convincing start to get things off on the right foot or we will be behind the chains. It was easy to see last year in the URI game that it was going to be a long season. This Saturday will also tell us a lot about this season, and what might play out for the rest of the year.

Stephen Burtin 3 weeks, 5 days ago

I have the same concerns. As fans of this program, we see the progress and the foundation being built, but to outsiders the progress is not so obvious and the bad reputation remains.

This team still isn't anywhere near 85 scholarship players, but they will be graded on the same scale as every other team in the country this year...the W/L column. Unfortunately for us, making progress in that column is no guarantee in year three. The scholarship players that we are down are not 10 or 15 freshman, they are 10 or 15 seniors, juniors, and sophomores that haunt us like ghosts of recruiting cycles past. So we don't just lack a few bodies, we lack years of experience.

I have hope that this team can win 3 games this year, but I think they need 4 to garner any real respect. Maybe 3 wins and zero blowout losses would be enough, but that is still a tall order for a young team. I think we have a few more blowouts to suffer before our Hawks turn the corner. I just hope our fan base stays patient until they do.

Michael Maris 3 weeks, 5 days ago

I can't blame Lee Corso for laughing. He knew that the 2016 Texas Longhorns had far more talent on their sidelines than Kansas had. But, Coach Charlie Strong and his Texas Longhorn program was on a sinking ship.

That late November Saturday Afternoon game, Memorial Stadium became a snake pit waiting to put a final touch on Coach Strong tenure. It is what it is.

Coach Beaty has continually pushed the Jayhawk's football team towards positive movement (slow but consistent). And, I'm excited for this season.

Dirk Medema 3 weeks, 5 days ago

A couple years ago we sent ISU out on the recruiting trail for a new coach. Any candidates for this year?

Brock Wells 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Texas Tech, even though we play them in October. And won't it be great when we beat the purple mild-kitties in what might be Coach Synder's last year!

David Robinett 3 weeks, 4 days ago

A 20% improvement in our O line can lead to a 50% improvement in our running game, which will then help the entire offense.

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