Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Observe & report: Six KU football storylines to follow as fall practices begin

Kansas head coach Turner Gill watches as the defense works out on the sleds during football practice on Monday, April 18, 2011 at the practice fields near Memorial Stadium.

Kansas head coach Turner Gill watches as the defense works out on the sleds during football practice on Monday, April 18, 2011 at the practice fields near Memorial Stadium.


They won’t put on pads, aren’t planning on picking up a football and certainly won’t be game-planning for their first opponent, which comes to town one month from now in the form of the McNeese State Cowboys.

But today is the day the 2011 college football season officially begins at Kansas University, as the Jayhawks report to fall camp this afternoon with the ceremonial move into Naismith Hall.

That’s where the Jayhawks will call home for the next few weeks, with official practices set to begin Thursday and two-a-days slated to start Aug. 10.

No matter how good or bad the previous season was, the start of each new football season typically is met with optimism, excitement and anticipation from fans, coaches and players.

On Tuesday, Twitter was abuzz with current Jayhawks Tweeting about their excitement for the season’s first official practice. Some talked about how they expected sleeping to be a difficult task Tuesday night.

KU coach Turner Gill has been looking forward to today ever since the final gun sounded against Missouri last November. Never was that more obvious than last week in Dallas, where Gill seemed to operate with an extra dose of excitement about the upcoming season.

While certain things — such as staying injury-free and uncovering which players are for real — seem to be the aim of every preseason camp, KU’s 2011 camp has some pretty specific storylines worth watching. Here’s a look:

1. The Quarterback Race

For a couple of seasons in the late 2000s, KU entered fall camp with an answer to the game’s most important question. The popular “Who will handle QB duties this fall” was answered with the joyous words, “Todd Reesing,” and, with that, all was well. Now, two years removed from Reesing’s final fall camp, the Jayhawks are still searching to replace him. Last season, Gill started three different guys under center in Kale Pick, Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham. All three struggled and the offense did, too. This year, the coaches say the goal is to pick one and stick with him, and the early leader appears to be Webb, who enters camp a year older and wiser. While Webb improved a lot during the offseason, both Gill and offensive coordinator Chuck Long said it’s too early to count out Mecham or incoming freshmen Brock Berglund and Michael Cummings.

2. New-Look Defense

Last year, the Jayhawks entered fall camp under defensive coordinator Carl Torbush. With Torbush retiring this spring to focus on his fight with prostate cancer, the defense will be run by cornerbacks coach Vic Shealy and defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt. Both coaches have impressive resumes and have been at their share of big-time programs. Knowing what to do won’t be a problem. Getting the team to do it will be the challenge, although Shealy and Wyatt will have much greater speed and depth at their disposal than Torbush did in 2010. In addition to scouting the way the new defensive bosses run things, it also will be interesting to watch what they run. There has been some talk about the Jayhawks switching to the 3-4, which employs three defensive linemen and four linebackers instead of the opposite. Such a move could benefit the team. KU has good depth, talent and experience at linebacker and a ton of question marks on the defensive line. Both Shealy and Wyatt have said they plan to tweak the defense a little this season, with simplifying it being the main objective.

3. Guess Who’s Back?

Several players who missed part or all of 2010 because of injuries head into preseason camp healthy and ready to return. At the top of this list are former starters Jeff Spikes (offensive line, Achilles’ tendon), Trevor Marrongelli (offensive line, leg) and Huldon Tharp (linebacker, foot) along with red-shirt freshmen Brandon Bourbon (running back, leg) and Ed Fink (linebacker, leg) and senior Rell Lewis (running back, knee). Two others who missed most of 2010 but could play key roles this season are junior defensive end D.J. Marshall, who, late last year, was declared cancer-free after a battle with Hodgkins Lymphoma, and sophomore safety Keeston Terry, who played in the first three games of 2010 but missed the rest of the season with a leg injury. Terry is projected to start at free safety.

4. Fab Freshmen

In 2010, Gill played just a few true freshmen. A week ago in Dallas, he said the reason for that was that he didn’t see a ton of young guys who had shown they were ready to play at the Division I level. That won’t be the case with this year’s group. Not only did Gill bring in this talented crop of 27 freshmen and junior-college transfers to add competition, he brought them in to play. At signing day in February, Gill said he’d likely play about half of the incoming class at some point during 2011. Some could become starters, others could be backups and still more could find their way onto the field through special teams. Based on what they’ve shown so far, here are the top candidates for early playing time: running back Darrian Miller, defensive back Adonis Saunders, running back Anthony Pierson, defensive back Victor Simmons, defensive end Michael Reynolds, wide receiver JaCorey Shepherd and place kicker Alex Mueller.

5. Too Hot To Trot?

With recent temperatures soaring above the 100-degree mark on a regular basis, keeping an eye on the heat will be a must for the Jayhawks this fall. Asked in Dallas if he liked training in triple-digit temperatures, Gill was honest. “No, that’s a little bit too much,” he said. “If it can be in the low 90s, that’s hot enough.” Not only will the extreme heat be cause for concern, it also will give the coaching staff an easy opportunity to see who’s in good shape and who isn’t as they race toward the Sept. 3 season opener. Gill, several players and the strength and conditioning staff have said the Jayhawks enter fall camp in better shape than they were last year.

6. Brock Watch

People may be tired of hearing about him, but fans of the program will want to know what he’s up to this fall. Freshman quarterback Brock Berglund will be a popular player as camp unfolds, even if he doesn’t work his way into the race to become KU’s starter. The list of things people will be watching most closely regarding Berglund include: Will he show up in the first place? How will he mesh with his teammates? Will his teammates welcome him? And, finally, is the guy as good as advertised? The answer to most of those questions should come quickly.


100 11 years, 2 months ago

  1. Recruit, recruit, recruit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Best promo video to go before games, if you haven't seen it yet....

waywardJay 11 years, 2 months ago

WOudl it kill them to break out the reel to reel footage of him in Lawrence... Seriously Kanye, that's CLASSIC.

100 11 years, 2 months ago

How about transitions between The Kansas Comet in a Kansas Uniform & these clips of him as a Bear?

Followed by footage of John Riggins as a Jayhawk. Transition to John Riggins as a Redskin running over (& through!!!) random Raiders for the 47 yard TD in 1982 (?) superbowl.

Followed by footage of McClinton as a Jayhawk.... Transition to McClinton scoring & catching the first ever TD in Super Bowl One as a.....

Kansas City Chief!!!!!!

texashawk10 11 years, 2 months ago

Don't let the kids practice indoors Gill. Keep them outside for both practices during two-a-days and find out who's really in shape and wants to be the best player possible.

This is a little off-topic, but I suppose it could be tied into #6 in regards to KU's QB situation. A few days ago, I was reading an article about Bubba Starling and his decision about his future. Does he take the millions of guaranteed dollars and immediately begin his baseball career or does he turn down that cash and be Taylor Martinez's backup for the next 2-3 years pending a redshirt. The thought I had was, wouldn't it be great if Bubba flopped as a baseball player and had to go back to college to pursue his football career later on. Of course I would rather see him succeed for the Royals since he is a hometown guy, but him not living up to his baseball hype could potentially be a benefit for KU down the road.

Usually a baseball prospect will return to college to play football if they don't appear headed for the majors after 3-4 years in the minors. This is where KU and Brock Berglund come into the picture, let's say that Starling is in the Royals organization and by the end of his 3rd season he hasn't made it past AA and doesn't look like he'll ever be a major league player. At this point, he quits baseball to go to college and pursue a football career and with the money he will have made from his initial signing bonus, Starling would not need a scholarship and would be free to walk-on to any college program in the country. Since the reason he chose Nebraska was because they were the closest school with good football and baseball programs and he would be allowed to play both there, however baseball is not an option this go around, so he looks at other schools as well. At the time of this decision, it is after the 2014 season and Bubba is deciding where to enroll for the spring 2015 semester so he can go through spring practice and get a head start on his college football career. Also at this time, Brock Berglund is going into his RS senior season (assuming he gets redshirted this season which is a possibility) so let's say KU is coming off an 9-4 or 8-5 season with a bowl win and is considered a dark horse to make a run at a Big 12 title in 2015 and Gill and staff have continued to bring in top 35 recruiting classes so the talent is there for sustained competitiveness in the Big 12. Starling is mulling his choices and decides that KU is a program on the rise and there would be an opportunity for him to be a 3-4 year starter after redshirting his first year on campus to get into football shape. He then takes over the KU starting job in 2016 after Berglund graduates the previous season and Starling leads KU to a surprise Big 12 title during his tenure at KU and is Heisman finalist during his career as well before being drafted in the NFL.

I know this is a far fetched scenario, but I'm allowed to dream about it though, right?

KGphoto 11 years, 2 months ago

Problem is, the whole Starling family has no love for KU. They are now die hard Cornhuskers. I would imagine if the scenario came close to playing out, he would still end up in Nebraska.

Nice detailed dream though.

huskercarpenter 11 years, 2 months ago

You said he would be Taylor martinez's back up for 2 or 3 years, we don't think that is the case. Is Taylor good, yes, but everytime he was taken out of the game he stood on the sidelines and pouted like a little baby he never, and I mean never put on a head set and tried to help the coaching staff out by telling them what he was seeing out there. He disappeared from the coaching staff. Now he was a true freshman and was asked to do a lot, but Nebraska fans expect more then that. Bubba is good enough to take the job away or push Taylor to another level. Plus Bubba would find his way on to the field some how maybe as receiver, remember bobby newcomb. But Bubba turning down all that money, I don't think I would do that. With this economy he and his family would be set for life.

To all KU fans have faith in turner in the end k-state will wish they would have given him the job 1 year earier. Good luck.

Funhawk 11 years, 2 months ago

Huskercarpenter believes! "Believe." E is for "Enjoy the college football experience." Huskercarpenter is fun.

Dirk Medema 11 years, 2 months ago

Wasn't Taylor a redshirt F last year?

I'd expect more from you Mr Carpenter, tho you do seem to be rather spot on for the rest.

huskercarpenter 11 years, 2 months ago

dagger, I think he was a true freshman, I am not going to say that I am 100% positive untill I find out for sure. But I am about 95% sure. If I am wrong on this I will let you know.

huskercarpenter 11 years, 2 months ago

dagger, went and checked I am impressed you are right he is listed as a junior with the eligability of a sophmore. I am not on here to be arrogant. I want to post to show support for a great coach, I also have a lot of respect for KU fans for how I have been treated by most of them since moving down here in "88". which is something I can't say for most of the people that wear purple.

Randy Bombardier 11 years, 2 months ago

Oh my, I just watched some Bubba Starling at youtube. Wow. After seeing that I think he has nothing to worry about at Nebraska. He will easily beat out Martinez because of the comments below. Maybe we could give scholies to all of his hs linemen, hire his hs coach, employ his dad, give money to his church, etc.

Andy Tweedy 11 years, 2 months ago

One interesting thing about the recruitment of Bubba Starling is that, and I'm going with the Omaha media here, he wasn't really sold on Nebraska because of its football program, but rather because of how well the Nebraska baseball coaches recruited him to Lincoln. It is interesting that the baseball coach at Nebraska has since been fired, but I thought I'd toss that out there for the Bubba fans. He'll be wearing royal blue soon, but it won't be in Lawrence.

nuleafjhawk 11 years, 2 months ago

texashawk10 - wow! You've put some thought into this my friend. Could you come up with a scenario to bring the Morris' back for one more year? It will take some doing, but it looks like you've got the tools.

texashawk10 11 years, 2 months ago

Sorry nuleafjhawk, I live in Houston and I would prefer to see Marcus play for the Rockets this season if there is one. Plus I don't think the twins have enough money to bribe the NCAA to look past the getting drafted and hiring agents thing.

nuleafjhawk 11 years, 2 months ago

That's ok texashawk10 - I was originally going to ask for you to bring Wilt back, but THAT seemed a little far-fetched. I'll settle for low gas prices and world peace if you have any say in that ! lol. Hope you get to see Marcus play and do well.

justanotherfan 11 years, 2 months ago

Anything over 95 in this humidity is too risky for outdoor practices.

There have already been two deaths this year during football practices (one coach, one player) that are heat related, and another player is still in the hospital after nearly dying. This is serious stuff. I know a lot of people think the heat "toughens guys up", but that just isn't the case. There are serious risks to practicing in this heat.

You have to give liberal water breaks to make sure everyone keeps sweating. Little known fact is that not sweating in hot weather is an indication of dehydration, and any player that is not sweating heavily should IMMEDIATELY be removed from drills and hydrated. Players body temperatures should be monitored throughout the practice. Anyone whose temp rises too quickly, or goes above a certain level should be IMMEDIATELY removed from practice and sent to a cooler area to rehydrate.

Honestly, practicing indoors is the way to go in triple digits. Take them into the gym or the weight room and work their tails off, conditioning like crazy. But don't risk players lives.

Gary Wirsig 11 years, 2 months ago

Agreed - let 'em work out indoors, where they can push themselves harder and longer. The heat is more of a complicating factor than a "toughener".

nuleafjhawk 11 years, 2 months ago

I agree. Already read of a teenager in South Carolina and a coach in Texas that died from the heat (presumably). Definitely not worth the risk.

Dyrk Dugan 11 years, 2 months ago

Practicing in the heat only worsens the situation...the whole key is your cardio, and your ability to go over and over again. it doesn't matter if you can do it in 95 plus degree weather...or in a more temp.controlled environment. and i practiced in 100 degree temps in HS....granted, not the rigorous setting like college...but it was tough enough.

I expect a Berglund sighting story before the day is out. the LJW made this a they better bring us the news. it wouldn't be right to ho hum a general player showing up story...when they've made that the story in the 1st place.

Jeffery Barrett 11 years, 2 months ago

We'd better get a 'crow-eating' article from Keegan in the near future!

justinryman 11 years, 2 months ago

If they can't practice outside in 95 degree heat and high humidity then what happens come game day when it's 97 and really steamy out? Gotta be able to practice in it if you might have to play in it.

Of course if it's that hot and sticky, then Memorial Stadium won't empty at half time, it just won't ever have anyone in it.

Gary Wirsig 11 years, 2 months ago

If they've truly worked out hard indoors, they'll tough it out when they have to - they're gamers. If they dog it during hot games, they'll dog it during hot practices.

Sam Constance 11 years, 2 months ago

It's one thing to play in it and all the risks it entails because you HAVE to and it's for an organized, "official" game.

It's quite another to play in extreme heat voluntarily, for practice, when there are other options, and no real consequences for exercising said other options.

As some have already noted here, playing in higher temperatures doesn't really create a conditioning advantage. It just makes your body go through water faster and play in a less-than-optimally-hydrated state. If there were real benefits to playing through dehydration (which is essentially all that is gained from practicing in extreme heat), then teams could do it all the time, by simply limiting water intake.

Being able to play dehydrated shouldn't be a contingency because it should be avoided at all costs, for safety's sake.If you want to increase your players' conditioning, make them run more sprints, do more lunges, etc... in a climate-neutral environment.

Sorry to jump on you, but dehydration/heat exhaustion/heat stroke are things that are often misunderstood and lead to deaths every year. It's a silly thing to die for, and part of the reason people die for it is because of things like mistaken notions of how extreme heat helps conditioning.

justinryman 11 years, 2 months ago

I have suffered from heat exhaustion more than once. It's not fun and wish it upon no one. It is easily treated if you give water breaks and have the ability to get someone cooled off quickly but not too fast. With IVs at the ready at major universities and banana bags I'm sure if the players are monitored they will be ok and be able to recover quickly.

I played HS ball and we didn't have an inside facility and our coach was very old school, so yes water breaks were limited, practices long and tough. He would make us run suicides at the end of each two a day practice in full gear, last half got to go do it again.

I'm not saying every practice has to be outside, but you have to be used to it or you won't be able to handle it when you have to.

justinryman 11 years, 2 months ago

Plus after reading all the comment last season about having to be more mentally tough, here is a little way to push someone to their mental toughness.

Plus these guys are in soooooooo much better shape now a days that if they have been working out at all this past summer, they are probably somewhat used to it.

Again Im not saying every practice should be outside, but you have to have the majority of them out there. There is a reason Green Bay plays so well at home in December. yes they have an indoor facility, but they practice outside too.

Tony Bandle 11 years, 2 months ago

How about the only story line that really counts........wins and losses!!!

vd 11 years, 2 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

KGphoto 11 years, 2 months ago

1 QB race: Of course

2 New look defense: Absolutely

3 Guess who's back?: This one grabs me by the throat. I just can't believe the hand Turner Gill was dealt last year. That's the most devastating injury list I've ever seen, and he was going through a monumental re-construction even before the bug hit. How anybody could give an accurate grade to TG based on last years results is beyond me. If we get through this year with few key injuries, then we can begin to see what coach can do. To recap.

Starters: -Jeff Spikes -Trevor Marrongelli -Huldon Tharp

Contributors: -Rell Lewis -Brandon Bourbon -DJ Marshall -Keeston Terry -Ed Fink

And don't forget the dismissal of two talented defensive players. The distinguished armed burglars, Jamal Greene and Vernon Brooks. Those two guys would have been starters as well. I had Vernon Brooks down as a big time upgrade at LB. And Greene was all set to break out. (insert prison joke here)

4 Fab Freshmen: Fast Freshmen. "Can't Wait" (please don't sue me Bart Scott.)

5 Too hot to trot: Make them watch "The Junction Boys". No problem.

6 Brock watch: See #1.

Dirk Medema 11 years, 2 months ago

Add to #3 the walking wounded (out of shape) Hatch & Thorsen. Huge turn around in store just for staying healthy this year. It will be interesting to see which of the big boyz are ready to contribute from the get go. Dylan is already #2 OC, and he wasn't even highly recruited. Sort of like Saunders getting big props tho a 5.2 (?) recruit.

Rob Zerwekh 11 years, 2 months ago

I realize we already play 30 pounds lighter, three inches shorter and two steps slower at every position. But those hot August practices don't seem to bother the Texas or Oklahoma schools.

Omari Miller 11 years, 2 months ago

Umm, wrong. Every school forced to deal with the crazy heat is looking to take precautions to protect players and staff from it, particularly because of recent death and other heat-related medical problems... even OU.

We've got a fantastic indoor facility that will allow players to work on reps to improve skill and cardio. Practicing in the brutal heat, according to every current coach, is a liability, not a benefit.

Omari Miller 11 years, 2 months ago

OSU doesn't even have an indoor facility yet, so moving indoors to escape the heat isn't even an option for them:

Dirk Medema 11 years, 2 months ago

Morning and evening practices. That's what we use to do, tho that was just running. You just can't push yourself as hard if your body is dealing with overheating.

nuleafjhawk 11 years, 2 months ago

I haven't read every post on here (sorry), but most schools schedule their early season games at 6:00 or 7:00 in the evening, which helps tremendously. It may still be hot, but at least the sun isn't beating down on them as bad as if it were a 1:00 or 3:00 pm game.

Rob Zerwekh 11 years, 2 months ago

The hottest game I ever attended, or at least one of the hottest, had to be the 2:00 p.m. opener against Oklahoma State on September 5, 1998. It was 94 degrees, but the humidity was downright tropical that day. For that reason, I love the 6:00 p.m. kickoffs in September.

nuleafjhawk 11 years, 2 months ago

Agreed TheRob - makes for a late night, for those of us who live way out of town AND stay for the whole game, but the "cooler" temps are definitely worth it.

Randy Bombardier 11 years, 2 months ago

I am most excited about 3 and 4. Seeing the O-line back to strength with some good new blood. Tharp back will be big too. Also seeing a couple of backs we have not seen will be good. What's the word on Berglund?

jhawkpb23 11 years, 2 months ago

Quote from Brock Berglund's Twitter account about 10 minutes ago...

@brockberglund: Great to be back I'n Lawrence. Ready for camp to get going. #kufball

Rock Chalk! Hopefully he can live up to the hype, we could definitely use his help!

Andy Tweedy 11 years, 2 months ago

Not to play ahperse or anything, but one thing about this article still bothers me. I love Turner, and I'm optimistic things will work out. BUT...he continually said last year that conditioning wasn't the problem in the latter part of games. But now we keep hearing, from the media and from him, that the players are in better shape this year. And they've gone to the trouble of pointing out the different approach to running this year. So which is it? If conditioning wasn't a problem last year, why such a different approach this year. I'm not buying it. I think the conditioning program last year was a disaster, and it didn't help much considering we were already playing with half a deck.

Dirk Medema 11 years, 2 months ago

Last year could easily be attributed to Turner trying to be positive and not dwelling on the negative. It could also be him saying (last year) that there were plenty of other issues more significant than conditioning. That doesn't mean that improved conditioning this year won't be a positive. He never blamed last year's losses on being too slow, but they are still plenty amped about being faster as a team this year. It can reasonably be both ways.

texashawk10 11 years, 2 months ago

There's a difference between going Bataan Death March on a team and practicing outdoors in a responsible manner in the heat. As long as the coaches and training staff keep the players well hydrated and give them 5-10 minute breaks on a regular basis, practicing outdoors isn't a big issue and it does better condition players rather than doing the same things indoors. KU is going to have to play one game is very hot weather when they play @ Georgia Tech because that game kicks off at 11:30 and will be ending at the hottest part of the day and conditioning will be a major factor in the outcome of that game.

Gary Wirsig 11 years, 2 months ago

Depends on your definition of "hot". According to "weather by day" site below, the high in Atlanta on Sep 1 is typically 86 degrees and for Sep 30 is 77. Since our game is Sep 17, I'm going with a probable high temperature in the middle, or about 81 or 82. That wouldn't give me a reason to risk heat stroke in an August workout.

I say let's let our coach make these decisions.

texashawk10 11 years, 2 months ago

Considering the weather has been 10 to 15 degrees hotter than usual in most places this year, I wouldn't count on the temperature that game being in the low 80's unless it's raining. I would expect the weather that day to still be in the 90's and feeling pretty humid still.

Randy Bombardier 11 years, 2 months ago

try celery juice to stay hydrated. Not kidding.

justinryman 11 years, 2 months ago

Pickle juice is full of electrolytes and have seen many people eat pickles and or drink the juice right out of the jar. Bad breath, bad sweat, but no cramping.

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