OK, for this week's final set-the-scene-for-spring-football blog, we'll dive into sleepers.
Rather than just pick a few and speculate how they might fit in or what roles they may play, I'll go position-by-position and give you one player whom I could see making a splash that people may not be expecting.
Now bear in mind that this is being written before the start of spring drills and that time, let alone preseason camp, could change things drastically. But, for now, here are the guys I could see stepping up in some way, shape or form this season.
*Disclaimer: Just because they make this list does not mean I'm saying they will make a huge impact.*
Quarterback: Tough one. I'll go Jordan Darling. Jake Heaps looks like the man and Michael Cummings is a known name as his back-up. I don't expect Darling or fellow-freshman Montell Cozart to play, but one of them figures to get a leg up on the other through scout team reps and if Darling can put up the high school numbers he did while moving to a new school each year, I think he could contribute in a positive way as the show team QB in 2013.
Running back: Freshman Colin Spencer. Weis recruited this guy as an athlete/defensive back and already has moved him to running back. That was partially to cover his butt in terms of depth but more so because Spencer can play. I fully expect him to factor into the offense in some manner right away.
Wide receiver: Ishmael Hyman. Remember how Tre' Parmalee played a much bigger role than anyone expected last season? That's what I keep thinking of when Hyman's name pops up.
Tight end: Trent Smiley. I've long been a fan of Smiley's ability to block. He may be as good as anyone on the team. And because of that, you know he's gonna be out there. Playing time leads to production and even though Smiley won't be asked to do much more than block, I wouldn't be surprised if he came away with three or four touchdowns by default this season.
Offensive line: Let's go with Joey Bloomfield. True freshmen rarely do much on the offensive line at KU, but there's something about Bloomfield (probably his 6-6, 305 size) that makes me scratch my head and wonder if he might be ready for some kind of role a little earlier than most we've seen in recent years.
Defensive line: Keon Stowers. Did not make the splash I thought he would last season, but did participate in plenty of snaps and seemed to improve as the season went along. I've heard his name mentioned more than a few times when it comes to offseason workouts and leadership, and, at 6-3, 290 and athletic, Stowers has the make-up to be a pest in the middle.
Linebacker: Victor Simmons. As a true freshman, I had Simmons pegged as a future star at safety. But then the coaching change happened, he moved positions and my prediction fell flat on its face. Simmons is a big-time athlete who can run and during the past two seasons has bulked up nicely to 6-2, 206 pounds. I doubt he plays much, but if he gets a shot, that speed and his physicality could become a factor much in the way Prinz Kande's was before a knee injury cut his season short last year. (Kande was another good option here, by the way, but you never know how a guy's gonna respond to a serious injury like that).
Cornerback: JaCorey Shepherd. I'm going with Shepherd as a sleeper here only because he's still new to the position and I think he's going to be very good one day. Defensive coordinator Dave Campo has raved about the former wide receiver since Day 1 and we saw flashes of what he could do last season. Coming off a full offseason devoted to defense, I think Shepherd has a chance to be a terrific corner.
Safety: Dexter Linton. Linton fared well when thrust into action because of injuries last season and seems to be the most proven safety among KU's returners. We may have seen his ceiling in those games and the guys Weis & Co. brought in during the offseason may have more talent, but it would not surprise me if Linton played a decent-sized role this season.
Specialist: Ron Doherty. One kicker (Trevor Pardula) was given a scholarship to help eliminate KU's problems in the kicking game and another (Michael Mesh) was encouraged to walk-on with the idea that he could compete for starting place kicking duties right away. I know Doherty has been strictly average during the past couple of seasons, but what if those moves (and getting past an injury that plagued him for most of 2012) are exactly what the senior with experience needs to deliver a breakout season?