Blocking took on an extra emphasis at this morning’s Kansas football practice, the first of two sessions today.
Not only did all of the position groups spend a little extra time working on the skill, but the team’s most important blockers — the offensive linemen — worked out with a little different look.
Junior tackle Riley Spencer was not on the field this morning. No word on why, but I have heard that he’s dealing with some kind of a knee injury. We get a chance to meet with Coach Weis around noon, so we’ll get the scoop then.
With Spencer out of the lineup, for now, junior Gavin Howard slid over to right tackle and defensive-lineman-turned-offensive-lineman Randall Dent worked with the first team at right guard.
Dent looks good. Like Aslam Sterling, he’s moving well for a man his size (6-4, 300) and he looks to be in much better shape than he has been during the past couple of seasons when he was on the defensive line.
There certainly still is time for Sterling (6-5, 360) to make his way onto the first string, but, whether Spencer is out for a little while or a long while, getting Dent some meaningful reps with those first-teamers should benefit KU’s depth in a big way.
I also think it shows you a lot about Howard, a guy who, just a few weeks ago, was a major question mark but now appears to be creeping into that category with Tanner Hawkinson, Duane Zlatnik and Trevor Marrongelli as guys you would label steady and solid.
I watched Howard a lot today and the one thing that stood out to me that I hadn’t noticed before is his strength. He’s got a good frame (6-4, 300) but he also appears to have some muscle behind it.
Perhaps because we all had the day off yesterday, the media turnout at today’s practice was pretty low. So low, in fact, that Coach Weis noticed and actually made it a point to reward those of us who did show up with 20 extra minutes of practice watching. That gave me time to focus on more than just the O-Line, so here’s what else caught my eye at Day 12 of fall practice.
• While Spencer was not even on the field this morning, two Jayhawks were busy riding the bikes. D-Back Brian Maura and linebacker Anthony McDonald spent the first 40 or so minutes of practice on the exercise bikes in the southwest corner of the practice fields. As I mentioned, we’ll try to get an update on all of KU’s injuries a little later today.
• With a good chunk of my time focused on the O-Line, I thought it was really interesting to see O-Line coach Tim Grunhard coaching his guys even during stretches. He walked up and down the line and reminded each one about gaps and assignments. This coaching staff really stresses the mental side of the game as much as the physical, so I’m guessing this was part of hammering that point home. Cool to see a guy using every minute he gets to coach, though.
• I know it’s different in practice than it is during live action, but this offensive line really looks like it has a chance to be a solid run-blocking unit. Of course, it’s going to be just important, if not more so, for these guys to pass protect, but they all look really physical driving blockers downfield. As I mentioned earlier, the running backs spent a good chunk of the early portion working on downfield blocking and the wide receivers and tight ends worked on the same thing. I know you’ve all heard this a lot, but this is the kind of thing that makes those of us in the media continually say that this team will line up right, execute better and look like it knows what it’s doing out there. It’s the little things.
• During the sled drill that followed stretching, KU flashed a look at most of its first-string guys. Depending on what happens with Dent, Spencer and Sterling, and depending on what kind of package they’re running, the first unit looked like this: RT - Howard, RG - Dent, C - Marrongelli, LG - Zlatnik, LT - Hawkinson, TE - Ragone, TE/FB - Smiley, QB - Crist, RB - Pierson, WR - Pick, WR - Patterson.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “Born to Be My Baby” by Bon Jovi. This is the kind of tune that proves you’re a die-hard Bon Jovi fan.
• We’ve got our next press conference with Weis around noon today and we’ll also get interviews with a few offensive players at that time, so keep an eye out for audio clips a little later.