Kansas University football coach Mark Mangino is tired of seeing his team backed up near its own end zone.
“We had a really nice offensive unit last year again,” Mangino said. “Could you imagine if they got the ball more on the 35, 37, 38, rather than on the 19 the 20 or the 21?”
Mangino has made this much clear in the week leading up to his team’s season-opener against Northern Colorado: The Jayhawks will have a greater focus on special teams and winning the field-position battle.
In particular, Mangino wants to see significant improvements in the kickoff return and kickoff coverage units.
KU was 118th out of 119 Div. I teams last season in kickoff returns, averaging just 17.5 yards per return. The Jayhawks were 67th nationally in kickoff coverage (21.4 yards per return).
“Every good football team I’ve been around,” Mangino said, “has always been really good on special teams.”
Mangino said he was happy with the progress made this offseason from the punt-return unit. KU was tied for 26th nationally a year ago, averaging 11.6 yards per return.
Arist Wright appears to have locked up a starting spot as one of the Jayhawks’ three linebackers for the season-opener.
After starting four games his redshirt freshman year in 2006, Wright started no games in 2007 and just two in 2008.
“I just stuck in there, never put my head down,” Wright said. “I’m not a person like that. I’m a strong person.”
Kansas coach Mark Mangino had high compliments for the 6-foot, 226-pound senior.
“I think,” Mangino said, “he’s playing his best football right now.”
True freshmen Bradley McDougald, Toben Opurum and Huldon Tharp all appear as backups on the latest KU depth chart, and it appears unlikely that any of the three will take red shirts.
Mangino wasn’t guaranteeing that any other true freshmen would play Saturday against Northern Colorado.
“I think we just want to work through this first game,” Mangino said, “and see where we are, take a look at ourselves.”
Mangino said senior Justin Thornton wasn’t having any problems switching back to his natural position of safety.
For the final five regular-season games last year, Thornton was moved to left cornerback.
“We put him at corner out of necessity, and he did a nice job. He really did,” Mangino said. “But he’s not really a corner — he’s a safety. You can just tell he’s really cutting loose at that position, where I think he was a little tentative at corner because he didn’t know it that well. It wasn’t a natural for him.”
No news is good news
KU senior Kayl Anderson isn’t getting discussed much at all. And that’s the way he likes it.
“At least for me, if I show up (in the paper), it’s usually a bad thing,” Anderson said.
This will be Anderson’s fourth consecutive season as the starting long-snapper. Already, he has 38 collegiate starts.
Because of his consistency, he rarely makes it into stories — which is exactly his goal.
“My dad understands,” Anderson said with a grin. “He doesn’t want to see my name in the paper, either.”