Ranking Kansas football position units: No. 10, offensive line
For the next 10 installments of Lunch Break, I’m going to rank, in order from weakest to strongest, 10 units of the 2017 Kansas football team.
I decided to lump the offensive line as one unit, even though I broke the defensive line into tackles and ends, secondary into two cornerbacks and safeties/nickels, the pass-catchers into outside receivers and inside receivers/tight ends. I’m ranking five defensive units and five from the offense.
10 - Offensive line: The unit remains shy on experience, compared to most Big 12 lines, but having lost just one starter in D’Andre Banks, is pretty much a year more experienced than in 2016.
Left tackle Hakeem Adeniji will be up to 300 pounds by the time the season starts, which is roughly 35 pounds heavier than the weight at which he competed as a true freshman. It looks like very good weight that doesn’t appear to be slowing him down.
He’s very bright, has good feet and is much stronger than a year ago, but he’s still just two years removed from playing high school football. For a typical offensive lineman, that means he’s battling a couple of other guys in hopes of getting onto the depth chart.
In Adeniji’s case, he’s the best offensive lineman on the roster and has the confidence to carry that leadership role.
Adeniji said he’s fortunate to go against one of nation’s best in Dorance Armstrong daily in practice and added, “I feel like he should feel the same way too.” You have to like that confidence.
Senior left guard Jayson Rhodes (6-4, 307) showed improvement in the final few weeks of the season and has increased his strength in the offseason.
Center Mesa Ribordy (6-4, 305) suffered a knee injury on the opening day of spring practice, a tough break for the 305-pound third-year sophomore who he had been developing steadily. He’ll be ready for the season, but could have used the work in the spring.
Larry Hughes, a 6-foot-7, 310-pound junior, worked his way into the lineup at right guard late last season and will continue to work hard at adding strength.
Charles Baldwin remains the X factor for the O-line. He spent the spring of 2016 with Alabama, a mid-year transfer from junior college, was working with the first string at right tackle, but was booted from the team by Nick Saban for violating team rules. He didn’t stand out at practice during his redsdhirt season, but worked himself into better shape in time for spring football. Reviews were mixed, but better than during the fall.
Offensive line coach Zach Yenser has way more linemen to choose from than when he arrived as part of David Beaty’s first staff at Kansas. Most of the bodies are young and not as strong as they will be in another couple of years, but at least there are more bodies. Sophomore Antoine Frazier, a 6-3, 285-pound tackle, has excellent feet and will be in the mix for snaps. The staff is excited about his long-term prospects. Hunter Saulsbury (6-4, 310) is developing well as a backup center and junior Jacob Bragg lends depth at guard and center. Malik Clark (6-4, 320), a sophomore from New Orleans, has a chance to help at guard as soon as this season. Clyde McCauley (6-5, 310), forced into the lineup at left tackle as a true freshman well before he was ready, spent last season as a redshirt and has added bulk. McCauley can be used at guard or tackle. Joe Gibson has a year of eligibility but won’t be able to suit up because of a career-ending neck injury. Gibson's former high school teammate at Rockhurst, guard Zach Hannon, will spend his final year of eligibility at Kansas as a graduate transfer. Hannon did not display the talent needed to be used as a blocker for Nebraska, but stood out in the classroom and showed a good attitude during practice. He projects as a reserve for Kansas and could help on special teams.
Stability in the coaching staff will make it easier for Kansas to recruit and develop linemen. Basically starting from scratch, Yenser is in his third season at Kansas, which is enough time to show improvement, but not enough time to send a ready-for-prime time product onto the field. Even so, the line should show noticeable improvement from last season.