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Jayhawks reveal biggest players and plays after Friday scrimmage

Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley gives a flying bump to running back Kendall Morris, obscured, as the Jayhawks gear up for practice on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark.

Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley gives a flying bump to running back Kendall Morris, obscured, as the Jayhawks gear up for practice on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark. by Nick Krug

When David Beaty leaves a preseason practice, it’s difficult for the upbeat Kansas football coach to limit the best plays he saw to one or two.

So when asked Friday morning following the Jayhawks’ scrimmage what stood out on both sides of the Ball, Beaty proceeded to identify more than a dozen players who pleased him with their contributions.

Beaty said KU emphasized a lot of situational work during the morning session, and highlighted the following athletes as standouts from his perspective.

Travis Jordan, fr. WR: “Stuck out to me a lot. He had several targets that came at him and he had some health issues early in camp, and he’s coming back off that and he made several plays today, which were really nice plays — required strong hands and powerful attempts at the ball with guys hanging all over him. That was impressive.”

J.J. Holmes, jr. DT: “Made a couple really nice plays in there today.”

KU’s defense as a whole: “We were down on the goal line a few times today, and watching Joe Dineen, Mike Lee, Osaze Ogbebor, (Keith) Loneker … Daniel Wise made a couple great plays today. Those guys up front, it seems like the tighter we got down the better they played.”

Kansas cornerback Shakial Taylor watches from the sidelines during practice on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark.

Kansas cornerback Shakial Taylor watches from the sidelines during practice on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark. by Nick Krug

KU’s secondary: “Defensively, we’ve got to get more turnovers. But Shak Taylor still continues to show out to me, and Tyrone Miller was running around knocking people out today. Enjoyed watching him play.”

Taylor Martin, jr. RB: “Has played really well over the last week-and-a-half. He’s been explosive. He had a couple of unbelievable runs today. Another one in that stable of backs that really is doing a good job for us.”

KU quarterbacks: “I thought all three quarterbacks played pretty good today, made good decisions. We’ve had one interception in the last three scrimmages, and it was by a brand-new guy. It wasn’t by Peyton (Bender) or Carter (Stanley). So they’re taking care of the ball, which is something (offensive coordinator Doug Meacham) has done a great job of stressing.”

Kansas receiver Kerr Johnson Jr. pulls in a catch during practice on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark.

Kansas receiver Kerr Johnson Jr. pulls in a catch during practice on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark. by Nick Krug

Kerr Johnson Jr., jr. WR: “Everything gets quiet and the next thing you know he’s making a play.”

Quan Hampton, fr. WR: “Just the little Mighty Mouse. Number six, Quan Hampton. That dude is fast,” Beaty said, mid-chuckle, “as all get-out. He is quick and he is strong. I saw him stiff-arm somebody — I’m not going to mention him, because they’ll wear him out over it. But that little dude is strong. He is really fun to watch, man. I’m excited to see what Coach Meacham does with that guy.”

Steven Sims Jr., jr. WR: “Another one. Really good, talented guy.”

Dom Williams, fr. RB: “Man, he had a couple of really good runs today. He’s hard to tackle now. … It was early in the scrimmage and I basically put a big challenge in front of our defense about, ‘Are you gonna be able to get this guy down? Really. I mean, he’s a freshman. Can you get him down?’ And they hit him later,” Beaty said, with a laugh. “They got him one good time, knocked the breath out of him. But that dude, he can run.”

Players’ scrimmage perspective

After Beaty spoke, a few KU players offered their thoughts on the most memorable plays from the morning’s scrimmage.

Dorance Armstrong Jr., jr. DE

“The big stops in the red zone,” the Big 12’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year said. “The offense was at the five-yard line or closer and then we would come out with two or three stops like that. I think that was the most impressive thing.”

As Beaty alluded to, Armstrong thinks the defense has a tendency to respond when the players’ backs are against the wall.

“I think that’s how we’ve been for a while,” Armstrong added. “We need it to be like that every down — not just in the red zone. I like how we’ve come together. We’re like a brick wall, nothing gets through us.”

Peyton Bender, jr. QB

“There was a third down in the red zone where we just had four verticals called,” Bender shared, “and we converted that. That kind of stood out to me that everyone was dialed in, and it was good converting on third.”

On the vertical, Bender hit redshirt sophomore Chase Harrell, listed at 6-foot-4.

“It was Cover-2 and he got a good release,” Bender said. “Hit him at about the three-yard line and he just kind of reached out his arm and got it in.”

According to the junior transfer QB, Meacham called more rushing plays than usual Friday morning, to involve running backs.

“Taylor (Martin) had a really nice run on an inside zone that he took for probably 45 or 50 yards,” Bender revealed. “So I’d say out of all the plays those two kind of stood out to me.”

Carter Stanley, soph. QB

“I haven’t watched the film yet so I can’t think of one in particular, but we had some great situations,” Stanley began. “We had our first four-minute situation of camp today, which is when the offense is up and you’re just trying to run out the clock at that point and win the game.”

In that period, Stanley said he was encouraged by the consistency of the offensive linemen in front of him.

“I don’t think we had any busts up front,” the QB explained. “We ran the ball and we converted on third down, which is nice. Got the ball out to Bobby Hartzog for some first downs, so that extended the drive.”

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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 12, WR Chase Harrell

Kansas wide receiver Chase Harrell (3) is tackled by cornerback Kyle Mayberry (16) after a catch during the spring game on Saturday, April 15, at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver Chase Harrell (3) is tackled by cornerback Kyle Mayberry (16) after a catch during the spring game on Saturday, April 15, at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.

From the day Kansas signed receiver Chase Harrell as a long, wiry receiver out of Huffman, Texas, head coach David Beaty hasn’t shied away from hyping up his potential.

In fact, on a number of occasions Beaty has told reporters Harrell reminds him of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Mike Evans, a Pro Bowl wideout whom Beaty coached as an assistant at Texas A&M.

Harrell redshirted during his first season at Kansas, and in 2016 only made spot appearances while totaling five receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown in 12 games.

Now a redshirt sophomore, though, Harrell (according to his head coach) is closer to 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds than his 6-4, 215 listing in the spring. And this fall is shaping up to be a breakout season for Harrell.

Teammates rave about Harrell’s size and the extra work he put in during the offseason. If the ball is thrown up, they say, Harrell will do everything in his power to come down with it in his possession.

Harrell gave a preview of his third-year ability during KU’s spring game, when he caught three passes for 51 yards, including an incredible snag near the sideline — prompting veteran Steven Sims Jr. to think Harrell was one of the scrimmage’s MVPs.

via GIPHY

New KU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham considers Harrell not only a big target in his Air Raid scheme, but also the type of receiver whose presence forces defenses to adjust. When Meacham sends Harrell deep, he said that will benefit the Jayhawks’ running backs, too, because defenses can’t afford to leave Harrell in single-coverage down the field.

“He’s just a long fade guy. You’ve got to kind of double him or we’ll just throw the fade to him,” Meacham said of Harrell, whose size gives Kansas a different look than top receivers Sims (5-10) and Daylon Charlot (6-0). “Just having that type of body gets you a high safety, which helps you run the football to his side. There’s one less support player. It helps you in a lot of different areas. Plus, if they ever seam him up you just throw it up. That’s what we do. It’s no secret.”

Harrell recently said the start of preseason practices had him fired up for the quickly approaching campaign.

“I can tell other people are, too, because tension’s getting a little higher. You can tell testosterone’s kicking up,” Harrell said. “I know I’m ready.”

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

16 - Derrick Neal

15 - Khalil Herbert

14 - Charles Baldwin

13 - Shakial Taylor

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Meacham has lesson KU’s offense can learn from Clemson’s national championship

Kansas offensive coordinator and receivers coach Doug Meacham watches over a drill during practice on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark.

Kansas offensive coordinator and receivers coach Doug Meacham watches over a drill during practice on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark. by Nick Krug

Kansas offensive coordinator Doug Meacham isn’t asking quarterbacks Peyton Bender and Carter Stanley to be Deshaun Watson, or receivers Daylon Charlot and Steven Sims Jr. to be Mike Williams. But the man in charge of KU’s offense would like to see all of his Jayhawks embody some of the characteristics displayed by Clemson’s best players during the 2017 national title game.

Before the Tigers rallied to beat Alabama for the championship, Clemson trailed 14-0 in the second quarter. Watson and company’s first five drives resulted in a turnover on downs, three punts and a lost fumble. The eventual champs moved the ball no farther than 26 yards on any of those series.

“They did some things early on that weren’t very good. You never saw them panic,” Meacham said. “You never saw anyone’s head drop. You saw them just keep with it and it was business as usual, and eventually it’ll come.”

That’s the type of patience and confidence Meacham wants to instill in the Jayhawks’ skill players and offensive linemen in his first year with the program.

And during a scrimmage this past week, the coordinator even saw some of that out of his group. The first-string offense opened the practice with a three-and-out. Then the second unit did the same.

But from that point on?

“Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom, boom, boom. We start hitting plays, things start happening,” Meacham reported. “It was a great teaching tool for those guys to just listen. Trust the system, effort’s there, it’s gonna happen. We’re gonna take care of the football and eventually were gonna break through and we’re gonna move the ball.”

Kansas junior quarterback Peyton Bender fires a pass during a preseason practice on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017.

Kansas junior quarterback Peyton Bender fires a pass during a preseason practice on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017. by Mike Yoder

The Jayhawks’ offense was the antithesis of Clemson’s a year ago, when KU averaged a measly 20.3 points a game (120th nationally) and lost 36 turnovers (worst in the nation). Meacham thinks the 2017 Jayhawks, which also feature improved personnel, can make up a lot of ground in the production department by trusting the offense and believing the next big play is just a snap away.

“I think some places — or maybe here in the past — a couple bad things happen and you get the head drop, you get the body language, the blah, blah, blah. I don’t feel that from these guys right now and that was an indicator (at the scrimmage),” Meacham said. “Start off slow and then once we started getting into it we started moving the ball. You just see a demeanor out there with those guys that’s good.”

It will be up to Bender or Stanley — whomever wins the starting job — to make sure the offense carries itself with poise this fall. And at times, the QB should be able to do so without even completing a pass. Meacham said both candidates during preseason practices have had a knack for making smart plays.

Team Jayhawks receiver Daylon Charlot has a pass broken up by Team KU cornerback Julian Chandler (25) during the first quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium.

Team Jayhawks receiver Daylon Charlot has a pass broken up by Team KU cornerback Julian Chandler (25) during the first quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

“Pleased with the quarterbacks in terms of throwing it away or just eating it. They’ve done well with that, because we’ll just punt it out here,” Meacham said. “We’re not turning the ball over. We’ll punt it. We’ll throw it away. It’s OK. We just punt it and we’ll play the next set.”

On average last year, Cole Moos punted 6.1 times a game for Kansas. Obviously that’s not what Meacham wants. But he does aspire to get to a point where the offense can have a bad series or two and walk off the field trusting a scoring drive is coming as soon as KU gets the ball back.

An August scrimmage isn’t anything like a Big 12 game, of course, but Meacham is satisfied with the early intangible signs from his offense.

“When things aren’t going well, they still have their heads up,” he said. “That’s big. That’s huge.”

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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 14, RT Charles Baldwin

Kansas junior offensive tackle Charles Baldwin stands during a drill in preseason practice on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017.

Kansas junior offensive tackle Charles Baldwin stands during a drill in preseason practice on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017. by Mike Yoder

Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.

The yearlong wait is nearly over. When Kansas opens its season Sept. 2 against Southeast Missouri State, KU’s coaches, players and fans finally will get to see what kind of impact former Alabama tackle Charles Baldwin could have for the Jayhawks.

Since the 6-foot-5, 305-pound right tackle joined the program in Aug. 2016, the five-star junior college prospect (at ASA College, in New York) has seemed to possess the size, strength and talent to turn KU’s offensive line from a defect to an advantage.

As his Kansas debut gets closer, the intensity at preseason practices has picked up, which Baldwin considers a good thing.

“I feel like the farther we go the more comfortable you get, just because you’re learning the plays, you’re knowing where you’ve got to be and how,” said Baldwin, who is battling sophomore Antione Frazier for a starting spot at right tackle. “We build chemistry. The longer time we spend together on the practice field the more chemistry we get. So as time goes on it doesn’t get harder. It gets easier because we’re on the same page.”

Third-year KU head coach David Beaty recently said “youngins" such as Baldwin might be athletically ready when they get to campus, but much more goes into being fully prepared for their first encounter with FBS-level football.

KU offensive line coach Zach Yenser said Baldwin, dismissed at Alabama in 2016 after participating in spring football, knows he has to keep working in order to reach his potential — especially with the 6-4, 285-pound Frazier challenging him on the depth chart.

“Athletically, both those guys at right tackle are what you want,” Yenser said. “Their feet, their strength, their length, all that stuff.”

According to Yenser, Baldwin has to continue to get the reps to understand the offense fully, because that also will enable him to play faster. The O-line coach said Baldwin learns by coming in and getting one-on-one video review, owing to the fact that he absorbs more in that setting than in position group meetings.

“You’ve just got to taylor to each one of your guys,” Yenser said. “It doesn’t matter what I know. I’ve got to get them to know it.”

Since Baldwin went from practice player during his sit-out transfer season to eligible, Yenser has stayed on the potential standout, same as he would any of his players.

Yenser’s advice to his big junior tackle, as outsiders speculate on his talent and/or past?

“Make the main thing the main thing. None of the other stuff even freaking matters,” Yenser tells Baldwin. “What matters is you getting a degree, you being a great teammate and all that stuff will lead to you being a great football player. Because you’re talented. Focus on what matters. It doesn’t matter what anybody thinks. Who cares?”

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

16 - Derrick Neal

15 - Khalil Herbert

Reply 4 comments from Bob Bailey Randy Bombardier Chrisdeweese Brett McCabe

Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 16, NB Derrick Neal

Kansas cornerback Derrick Neal (7) disrupts a pass to Memphis wide receiver Phil Mayhue (89) during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn.

Kansas cornerback Derrick Neal (7) disrupts a pass to Memphis wide receiver Phil Mayhue (89) during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn. by Nick Krug

Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.

When coordinator Clint Bowen evaluates individual defensive players during and after Kansas football practices he likes to break it down by a player’s field presence and understanding.

Bowen says there are three phases for a college football defender:

No. 1: Know your assignment for each called formation.

No. 2: Get enough reps to make proper reads and reactions.

No. 3: All of it is second nature, enabling you to dissect an offensive call before the ball is in the quarterback’s hands.

A former KU receiver, nickelback Derrick Neal has progressed to the point where the secondary finally feels like home when he steps on the field

“Last year I couldn’t really tell what the offense was trying to do to the defense or do to me, from where I’m standing at, what position I’m at,” Neal, a senior from Dallas admitted. “But now I feel like I can read the offense: ‘They’re gonna do this play. He’s gonna run this. He’s gonna crack block.’”

As the senior continues his preseason camp battle for starting nickel duties with sophomore Kyle Mayberry, Neal said he and KU’s safeties, such as Mike Lee, Bryce Torneden and Tyrone Miller Jr., regularly call out pre-snap reads for the defense — a responsibility the nickels and safeties share.

“If you know what you’re doing,” Neal said, “you speak up and let your teammates know what’s this and what’s that.”

It’s quite a different feel for Neal, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound defensive back, from 2016, his first full season at the position. Playing as a backup in 11 games, Neal totaled 15 tackles and broke up two passes.

He’s expecting much more out of himself this coming fall, because his knowledge is finally catching up with the rest of his body when he is out in space defending receivers. Neal says his biggest strengths are his speed and feet, and it’s starting to show.

“I can cover anybody on the field,” Neal said.

Miller said earlier this summer during an interview on KLWN Neal’s quickness makes him an asset for KU’s secondary.

“He’s just got cat instincts. You see a receiver break left or break right, he’s on it, exactly like that,” Miller said, adding Neal rarely got beat on one-on-ones or deep, because he possesses the speed to make an interception or knock a pass away, even on the rare occasions he’s trailing a receiver.

Neal always had the athleticism to make an impact in the secondary, but now, as a senior, everything is coming together.

“I feel like this definitely is going to be my year,” Neal said of his personal expectations. “This is my money season. I definitely gotta eat. I’m willing to do what I’ve gotta do to be successful on the field.”

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

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Seven-plus months of competition hasn’t worn on Kansas QBs Bender and Stanley

Kansas redshirt sophomore quarterback Carter Stanley (center) throws during the Jayhawks' Aug. 1 preseason practice. Redshirt freshman Tyriek Starks (left) follows through on a throw next to Stanley, as junior Peyton Bender watches.

Kansas redshirt sophomore quarterback Carter Stanley (center) throws during the Jayhawks' Aug. 1 preseason practice. Redshirt freshman Tyriek Starks (left) follows through on a throw next to Stanley, as junior Peyton Bender watches. by Mike Yoder

Now in the eighth month of their competition to become the Kansas football team’s starting quarterback, redshirt sophomore Carter Stanley and junior transfer Peyton Bender haven’t allowed the stress or length of the process get to them.

One of these days (or weeks) one of them will be named the team’s starter and the other will become a backup. Still, both say their similar personalities have allowed them to push and challenge each other on the field while also coexisting peaceably — under the same roof, no less.

Both Stanley and Bender were prep quarterbacks in Florida, and similar interests helped strengthen their bond over the past several months. Bender said they’re both into water sports and KU linebacker Joe Dineen took them and other teammates out on his boat this summer.

It’s not that the two KU quarterbacks disparage competition. Even video game sessions at their house can turn fierce. They simply both know when to turn it on and when to tone it down.

“I think when it comes to football time, as far as practice and seven-on-seven and those sort of things, we’re all-out competing,” Bender said. “We’re going head-to-head. But off the field we have similar interests and like similar things. I think that just created a friendship. And we know on the field we’re competing, but off the field we can still be friends.”

Kansas junior quarterback Peyton Bender fires a pass during a preseason practice on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017.

Kansas junior quarterback Peyton Bender fires a pass during a preseason practice on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017. by Mike Yoder

That friendship, Stanley added, allows them to work well together on and off the field as they pursue the same end goal.

“We definitely work hard together and encourage each other to improve, because we know whoever it is — who knows, shoot, it might be both of us — but just for the betterment of the team we have to be at our best so this team can be at its best,” Stanley said.

Kansas quarterbacks coach Garrett Riley doesn’t know that their sound working relationship impacts the competition positively or negatively, but he sees them out at preseason practices constantly challenging each other. Plus, their position coach is pleased to see them taking on a team-first mentality above all.

“You would think maybe it’s unnatural for them to be as close as they are. But I think we talked about it a bunch in our room and job number one is to make everybody else around you better,” Riley said. “Job number two is being a great teammate. That’s in our position room and that’s with the rest of the team, and I think they’ve really embraced that and kind of bonded off the field socially.”

The quarterbacks, of course, feel their battle intensifying of late.

Said Stanley: “I think it’s amplified a little bit, just being fall camp, just knowing you’re that much closer to the season and the potential of a decision being made.”

According to Bender their competition has been escalating since the team returned from a brief July 4 holiday.

“There’s no more breaks. We’re here until the season’s over,” Bender said, explaining that’s it hit him last month that the Sept. 2 opener versus Southeast Missouri State is right around the corner. “It’s really time to start getting serious and really get down to business.”

Their head coach has noticed at August practices both quarterbacks doing all they can to reach the top of the depth chart. David Beaty said during live segments of camp both handled game-like situations well.

“Watching those guys have to play out there by themselves with blitzes coming, and understanding, recognizing coverages, different fronts that were getting thrown at them, I thought they did a really nice job of getting into the correct checks when they needed to,” Beaty said, “getting us into the right calls, and just quite honestly taking what the defense was giving you.”

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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 18, LB Keith Loneker Jr.

Kansas special teams player Keith Loneker (33) pulls down Texas Tech place kicker Erik Baughman (36) for a safety during the second quarter on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.

Kansas special teams player Keith Loneker (33) pulls down Texas Tech place kicker Erik Baughman (36) for a safety during the second quarter on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. by Nick Krug

Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.

Primarily a special teams contributor at the time, when Keith Loneker Jr. produced the Kansas football program’s first safety since 2012 in his Big 12 debut at Texas Tech in 2016, it was just a sign of bigger things to come.

By the end of his sophomore season, the hometown product from Free State High was starting at linebacker for the Jayhawks. In the final three weeks he totaled 30 tackles, boosted by a 16-stop performance in the Jayhawks’ meme-inspiring overtime victory against Texas. On that night Loneker also stymied running back D’Onta Foreman, who rushed for 2,028 yards on the season, on a critical fourth-quarter fourth down.

Loneker is glad to be following in his late father’s footsteps at KU, and optimistic about the Jayhawks’ chances this season, his third in the program (Loneker sat out 2015 as a transfer from Baker). He saw the work being put in during offseason months and took it as a sign of the program’s overall vibe shifting.

“It’s night and day, not just with our defense, but our team,” Loneker said earlier this summer during an interview with KLWN. “You come in here and one of the biggest things I’ve seen this summer and this past spring is how many people are doing extra work. The first two years I came here there were people doing extra work, but it was just the same people. Now when I come through here you’ll see the D-line — not just Dorance and Daniel and those people who usually do it. But it’s everybody on the D-line.”

Three years removed from beginning his college football career as a freshman All-American at Baker, Loneker is battling Osaze Ogbebor for the starting middle linebacker position. A longtime buddy and former high school teammate, fellow linebacker Joe Dineen expects Loneker, who played in all 12 games last year and started four, will take on a key role in the defense’s success.

“No one knew who he was, and he really made a name for himself,” Dineen said of Loneker’s first season at KU, “and he’s going to come back with a bunch of experience, which is going to help a ton, because that’s huge in the Big 12, the experience.”

Fueled by personal tragedy, just months after his father, former KU offensive lineman Keith Loneker Sr., died, “little Keith” already has shown he can deliver big plays. Now he wants to stand out on a weekly basis for an entire season.

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 20, DE Josh Ehambe

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong spots fellow position player Josh Ehambe during a set of squats at the Anderson Family Football Complex on Thursday, June 29, 2017.

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong spots fellow position player Josh Ehambe during a set of squats at the Anderson Family Football Complex on Thursday, June 29, 2017. by Nick Krug

Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.

When people discuss the Kansas football team’s talented defensive line, conversations sometimes begin and end with the names of Dorance Armstrong Jr. and Daniel Wise. But the stars of the unit will tell you another name belongs in those discussions.

Junior defensive end Josh Ehambe, who first displayed the brightest flashes of his strengths during the 2017 spring game, when he recorded four tackles and made three sacks, has transformed himself into a potential impact player.

“He’s probably one of the hardest-working guys on the team,” Wise said of Ehambe. “Constantly putting in work, constantly pushing us to be as best as we can be. And that’s what it’s all about on the D-line at the University of Kansas. That’s what we do.”

As a redshirt sophomore in 2016, Ehambe played in 11 games but only totaled three tackles on the season. He made his biggest impact versus TCU, with a sack and forced fumble.

Now entering his fourth season in the program, the 6-foot-3, 247-pound lineman can feel himself becoming capable of much more. Ehambe said in an interview with KLWN earlier this summer he’s probably at his best right now rushing the passer off the edge.

“But where I feel like I do need to improve is stopping the run, being more stout in the run, because before I can get to third down I have to get through first and second. I have to stop that first,” Ehambe explained, adding he thinks that will come eventually.

Until then, Ehambe, as he previewed in the spring game, should still find opportunities to make big plays on defense. On one down during the open scrimmage a few months back, Ehambe started outside, sped past right tackle Antioine Frazier with a spin to the inside and created himself an easy path to the QB.

Given the overwhelming talent of some of his D-line teammates, Ehambe wants to make the most of his chances this fall.

“I know a lot of guys are going to be so stressed on Dorance, so stressed on Daniel, Isi (Holani), that it’s probably going to leave me one-on-one,” Ehambe said, “and it’s all on what I do and if I seize the moment.”

Although Ehambe has missed much of preseason camp up to this point due to what head coach David Beaty described as a “minor surgical procedure,” he could be back involved by the end of the week if there is no change to his recovery timetable.

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 22, TE Ben Johnson

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson (84) is brought down after a catch during the first quarter on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson (84) is brought down after a catch during the first quarter on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. by Nick Krug

Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.

By the end of the season, don’t expect senior tight end Ben Johnson’s stat line to resemble his totals from the previous two seasons.

The 6-foot-5, 245-pound pass-catcher and blocker only had 10 receptions as a junior (110 yards, one touchdown) after a 13-catch sophomore season (115 yards).

New KU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham said Johnson is a rare classic tight end who is skilled and multi-dimensional — the Jayhawks can even line Johnson up as a fullback in some formations.

That’s why Johnson, form nearby Basehor, feels poised for a memorable senior campaign.

“I want to be first-team All-Big 12,” Johnson said earlier this summer, during an interview on KLWN’s Rock Chalk Sports Talk, “and I think just keeping that goal in mind I’m preparing for that each and every day.”

A tight end isn’t a necessity within an Air Raid offense, but Meacham likes the idea of lining Johnson up at a variety of spots.

Said Johnson: “I think I’m pretty good at blocking. You’ve got to have that grit when it comes down to putting your hand down on the ground and being able to man up with a D-end… But I also think I’ve got pretty good hands, too. So that kind of broadens what I can do.”

How does Meacham plan to make use of Johnson’s skill set?

“We’re just going to have to wait and see,” Johnson offered.

A one-dimensional tight end, Meacham said this week, wouldn’t be worth a scholarship for a program running the Air Raid. But the man in charge of KU’s offense said Johnson can do so many things well that getting on the field shouldn’t be an issue for the senior.

“If you have one, yeah I love those guys if you can find them,” Meacham said of multifaceted tight ends. “It’s just hard to find them.”

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 24, Ryan Schadler

Kansas receiver Ryan Schadler pulls in a pass during spring football practice on Thursday, March 30, 2017.

Kansas receiver Ryan Schadler pulls in a pass during spring football practice on Thursday, March 30, 2017. by Nick Krug

Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.

After a rare health-scare involving an organ disorder sidelined him for the entire 2016 season, Ryan Schadler is back with the Jayhawks ready to make a bigger impact than ever.

A former running back and kick-returner with a 104-yard touchdown return on his KU résumé, Schadler left a potentially crowded backfield before spring practices began to become a receiver.

At an early-morning offseason run this past spring, new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham walked over to Schadler and told him, ““Hey, we’re going to put you at slot.”

Schadler’s response?

“Yes,” he recalled. “Finally.”

Back in his hometown of Hesston, Schadler’s friends and family members often saw who the called “little receivers” playing on Sundays. Think 5-foot-10 Patriots standout Julian Edelman. “You should be doing that,” they would tell Schadler, listed at 5-11 and 191 pounds.

He mostly played running back in high school so Schadler had to learn all the Air Raid plays from a different position. What he had already picked up from KU’s system made that part easy.

“It’s the same offense,” Schadler said of Meacham’s approach, “so I kind of knew the gist of everything.”

Through the spring, he proved effective in the slot, paving the way for him to possibly start with Steven Sims Jr. and Daylon Charlot this fall in KU’s revamped passing attack.

A three-time high school state track champion (Class 4A) inspired to do something special with his second chance after surgery repaired a malrotation of his small and large intestines, Schadler also is in the mix as a punt- or kick-returner in 2017.

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

Reply 6 comments from Randy Bombardier Brock Wells Michael Maris Dirk Medema Jmfitz85 Brett McCabe

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