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Posts tagged with Top 25 2017

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.

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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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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

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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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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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