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Will offensive linemen Damon Martin and Riley Spencer make a difference for KU's offense?

This week's changes on the Kansas University football offensive line — the first such tweaks to the starting lineup in a month — were designed with the idea of putting more physical players on the field.

Damon Martin, a third-year sophomore, and Riley Spencer, a fifth-year senior, will take over for Mike Smithburg and Pat Lewandowski and right guard and left tackle, respectively, and, in doing so, will bring two of KU's strongest, biggest men back to the field.

Both have played in back-up roles throughout the season, but KU coach Charlie Weis said this week that it was time for them to take a bigger role because it's time for the Jayhawks to match the physicality of their opponents for more than just spurts.

Spencer's a guy who's been around for a while and been through a ton of injuries. Had he not gone down the injury path, I think he would've been a stud. His raw size has always blown my mind and he was an elite athlete in high school.

Here's what Weis had to say about Spencer, when asked on Tuesday:

"He's had both knees done, he walks around like me. But, what he is is a big man that is very physical. He's a big, physical guy. He has some limitations because of all the surgeries that he's had, but big and physical and tough, he's all of those things. You have to understand the limitations of your players and know what you're getting. Well, I know what we're getting even in the plays that he played in last week, a bigger body and more physical presence."

Moments later, Weis echoed similar thoughts about Martin, who is perhaps the one guy of all of KU's linemen with the most untapped potential. He's still young, so there's time for him to develop yet. But it sure seems that these last four games of 2013 could go a long way toward determining whether Martin is going to be the man during his final two years at KU or just another guy.

Here are Weis' comments about Martin from earlier this week:

"Damon is a physical, physical presence. One of the strongest guys we have. His issue never has been whether or not he can play. His issue has always been one of consistency. Actually, if he wasn't playing more consistent, then he wouldn't be listed as first."

From the sound of it, the move to throw these two guys into the starting five — along side Ngalu Fusimalohi (LG), Gavin Howard (C) and Aslam Sterling (RT) — was as much because of their improvement and steady play of late as it was Weis needing to find new options.

Smithburg and Lewandowski both have had good moments this year. But one is playing Div. I football for the first time and the other is playing on the offensive line for the first time. It only makes sense that they would not be polished machines right away.

Time will tell if Spencer and Martin are ready to close the season as staters, but, I think it's a safe bet that if they show up this weekend at Oklahoma State, they'll be in there the rest of the way.

Remember, continuity and chemistry are keys at this position and KU has not had much luck with either throughout 2013. That leads to penalties, breakdowns and uncertainty from the quarterback and running backs.

There are plenty of areas in which this offense could improve, but if the line can finally click, I think the rest will fall into place around it.

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Comments

Erich Hartmann 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I think Tait's final sentence is the key to KU's issues--maybe with more time in the pocket, Heaps throws a more 'catchable' pass? Fix the O-line. Rich Baldinger (TV announcer, exKC Oline ProBowler) kept talking about the Oline issues. I really, really want to see Sims get 1000yds...

The offensive line is the key to the whole offense.

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Erich Hartmann 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Keep analyzing folks, especially what happens in the final 3 games (WVa, IowaSt, KSU), which many consider our team to have a chance of being competetive in.

Also keep in mind the "year 2" records of Allen, Mangino...

Several of this season's games could have been VERY close at the end if the offense was able to help the defense out a little more throughout the game. A better-rested D makes it even better by game's end, meaning the offense has to do something, for god's sake...

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John Fitzgerald 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Starts with the line but definitely doesn't end with it. We have a lot of offensive holes and although the line will make them less visible, it still won't fix the issue. Why can't receivers get open? Why can't Heaps make accurate passes or find receivers? Why aren't the plays we're calling working? A lot of questions and not enough answers. I'm confident it will get better by next year though. I have to say this recruiting season is crucial. Weis has a tough road ahead of him convincing players to come here if we can't win a big 12 game. Super Bowl rings and playing time, two biggest selling points.

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David A. Smith 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Agreed. The line is the key. It'll be a domino effect that will come together rather quickly after the line improves its play.

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