Recruits will fill the gaps

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Spotting the Kansas University defensive lineman who came out of high school advertised as an outstanding prospect was an easy task in Saturday night’s 31-17, season-opening victory against South Dakota State. Too easy.

Josh Williams, the fifth-year transfer who graduated from Nebraska, has that long and lean look of a quarterback hunter. He has quicker, more agile movements than the rest of KU’s D-linemen. Charlie Weis won’t feel as if he’s upgraded recruiting enough until he has athletes who look and move that way and don’t stand out so much from teammates.

Kansas called so many of its running plays to go left because from center moving left on the line, three fifth-year returning starters line up, two of whom have all-conference ability. Weis is trying to build a program that gives him five experienced, reliable linemen so that one side won’t be significantly better than the other.

Upgrading recruiting won’t be easy, but Weis’ big name gives him a shot at doing so. The depth of talent still isn’t where it needs to be, but newcomers brought in by Weis already made an impact in the season opener.

Williams knocked a ball loose and recovered a fumble on the same play. Junior-college transfer Taylor Cox, his night tainted by a red-zone fumble, rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown. Freshman receiver Josh Ford blocked a punt. For a guy who wasn’t in town for spring conditioning and arrived late to camp in order to finish his junior-college academic responsibilities and isn’t close to being in good game shape, defensive tackle Jordan Tavai did some good things.

In the half-time-adjustment department, the offensive line that looked so disjointed at times in the first half appeared more cohesive in the second.

The first half showed how far the program must progress to compete in the Big 12, and the second half indicated how much the Jayhawks have moved forward from a year ago.

So often the past two seasons, poor third-quarter play was attributed to a failure to make half-time adjustments, and fourth-quarter bumblings were traced to an inadequate strength-and-conditioning program. Special-teams disasters didn’t favor any particular period.

The players sprinted to the finish line better Saturday than in the recent past, and special teams performed more reliably.

Clint Bowen doesn’t qualify as a newcomer, rather a home-comer, but the impact of his return shouldn’t be overlooked. A defensive coordinator at KU, Western Kentucky and North Texas, Bowen was special-teams coordinator at KU from 2001-2005. Weis’ convincing Bowen to coach the special teams and defensive backs counts as a solid recruiting job in itself. Now if Weis, Bowen and the rest can score big in recruiting, nervous openers will become rare.