Dissecting KU's defensive line and wondering if the best is yet to come for Marquel Combs
By now, you've surely all heard that the Kansas University football team's first-string defensive line will be made up of four players who have been in the program for at least a year.
Saturday night, when the Jayhawks take the field for the season opener against South Dakota — 6 p.m. at Memorial Stadium — veterans Kevin Young and Keba Agostinho will handle the end spots, second-year Jayhawk Keon Stowers will start at nose guard and third-year sophomore Ben Goodman will be KU's top Buck, the hybrid defensive end/linebacker position.
No Marquel Combs. No Ty McKinney. No Andrew Bolton. And, of course, no Chris Martin.
Three of those four newcomers whom many believed would make up the starting front four when KU signed them last winter are still with the program but only two of them figure to play this season. Martin was dismissed from the team after a run-in with the law in May and Bolton is expected to red-shirt so he can get 100 percent healthy in time for 2014.
I know there's some disappointment from KU fans over the fact that Combs — the No. 1 ranked juco player in his class according to ESPN.com — is not in the starting lineup, but I don't think the book on Combs' career as a Jayhawk has been anywhere close to written yet.
If anything, the fact that Combs starts the season as a second-stringer behind Stowers should be encouraging for KU fans not discouraging. The idea when Combs was signed was for him to come in and upgrade the defensive line and the pass rush immediately, which, based on the way the line had played the past couple of seasons, seemed like an automatic.
But a funny thing happened between the West Virginia game that ended 2012 and the end of fall camp in August of 2013. Agostinho and Young, both seniors, got healthy, got angry and got serious about not letting someone take their spots during their final seasons of college football.
That's a good thing. After all, these guys have combined for 69 appearances and 36 starts during the past three seasons. And, sure, that experience came on some pretty bad defenses but, good, bad or indifferent, experience is among the most important factors in college football and these guys have it.
We don't know yet how productive either player will be this season. But we do know this: KU coach Charlie Weis plays the guys who deserve to play, the guys who look the best, work the hardest and give the Jayhawks the best chance to win. And he stays that way from week to week, which means that if Combs or McKinney or anyone else listed with the second team or lower outshines the others on game day, they'll begin to see more snaps as the season moves along.
Obviously, Combs has not done enough in practice or in the film room to convince the coaches that he's worthy of a spot on the first team. At least not yet. But what if that's because the games have not been played yet and the part of the season that really counts has not yet begun? What if Combs simply is a gamer, a guy who looks OK in practice but wows everybody when the lights come on? If that's the case, he'll play plenty and, whether he starts or not, will hardly matter.
It's hard to know what to expect, but my gut tells me that what I just described is exactly what Marquel is.
The best news? We'll find out in just a couple of days.