Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Column: Kansas must develop O-line


Clearly, patience isn’t a virtue fired Kansas University head football coach Charlie Weis had when trying and failing to assemble an offensive line capable of keeping sleek Big 12 behemoths from fooling with the best-laid plans.

Weis inherited a roster from Turner Gill woefully lacking in offensive-line prospects and made the situation worse by not having the discipline to lay off shortcuts. He signed junior-college blockers, and look at what a horrible mess he left behind.

Somebody should do a study on the rate of chiropractor visits made by Big 12 officials the week after working a Kansas game. Bending over to pick up all those flags they toss is no way to keep back spasms at bay. Momentum-killers, just about every one of them.

Kansas was so thin at the offensive tackle positions that Damon Martin started the season at right tackle and looked more like a guard, but still easily was the best option. He developed an illness, and junior-college transfer Larry Mazyck took his place. False starts and holding penalties at alarming rates have dogged him. Both starting guards and the left tackle are seniors, so next season doesn’t shape up any better on paper.

The long-term success to building an offensive line lies in recruiting high school players, sometimes from other positions, and then building their bodies, their minds, their techniques.

“I think about all those old jokes,” interim head coach Clint Bowen said. “You take those O-linemen and put them in the dark room and don’t kind of think about them for a few years and then pull them out and they’re ready to go.”

In the NFL, players come ready-made and are selected by general managers who consult with scouts and the coaching staff. In college, recruiting the right guys requires having the ability to project what the athlete will look like a few years down the road and getting a feel for his mind, how much it can absorb, how well synced it is with the body.

“You take a corner, the guy’s athletic and fast and has some natural God-given ability,” offensive line coach John Reagan said. “You can throw him out there to play. He doesn’t get into physical mismatches. But at O-line, it’s one of those true areas where development is critical. The longer you can keep them in your system to where everything is more familiar with them, obviously, the better.”

We’re living in a microwave culture. We want the world, and we want it now. We’re fooling ourselves constantly.

“There are not a whole lot of quick fixes to anything in life, and there certainly are not when it comes to football and even more so when it’s offensive linemen,” Reagan said.

Anthony Collins and Tanner Hawkinson played for Reagan and went onto the NFL. Neither came to KU as an O-lineman.

“A.C. was a defensive end who would never play offensive line if his life depended on it when he first came out of high school,” Reagan said.

Hawkinson came to KU as a tight end, was moved to defensive end and then to left tackle, where he started as a red-shirt freshman.

Third-year sophomore Jordan Shelley-Smith was moved from tight end to right tackle in August and has moved up to No. 2 on the depth chart. He played for a stretch in place of Mazyck in his hometown Waco, Texas, on Saturday.

“He was playing decently against Baylor and had a little bit of a bang up that I think he’ll be back from, but I’ve been encouraged with him,” Reagan said. “He’s one of those guys typical of some of the things we did before in building a line. He wasn’t a lineman, obviously, he was a tight end who made the transition, so he’s a little bit more athletic. You bulk him up. He has some athletic ability that some of these guys who start inside don’t necessarily have. So, hopefully, that will be something we will be able to develop.”

There is that word again: develop.


Michael Lindsey 7 years, 8 months ago

Right on target Keegan. It takes time to develop an O-line which KU fans never give any coach. The verbal commitment list currently shows 4 OL's and 1 TE out of 14. If Weis wasn't given enough time for quick fixes from the JUCO ranks, what evidence is there that the KU fan base will give any decent coach the time to recruit and develop OL talent from the HS ranks?

Brad Sherp 7 years, 8 months ago

I understand that you can convert DE and TE recruits into tackles, but KU has to do that because we can't keep the OT's we recruit.

The OL is getting better under Reagan. They are much better than I expected them to be this year, and that isn't saying much. They are terrible, but better. We need to give Reagan more time. I hope the next coach keeps him around.

The biggest failures of Gil and Weis are that their teams had no discipline, or player development on offense (which is weird because they are supposed to be offensive coaches). Gil had neither for both sides of the ball. Seriously... when Kiesau first arrived, we had players telling the media that they were learning how to catch for the first time. How is this possible? Under Gil's watch, the defense didn't know how to tackle.

The only thing KU needs more than OL talent is a QB coach. How can you have 2 blue-chip QBs in Heaps and Crist - all the raw talent that Cozart has - and Milweard (the #5 rated QB in 2012), and not have anything to show for it? QB is the one position where KU has been STACKED with raw talent on paper. Every one of them has been out performed by a player who essentially developed himself - no first team reps and got over-looked by everyone. Cummings is successful in spite of poor coaching.

My suggestion - and it will never happen - is to hire Bowen as HC, and spend $3 million/year on the best QB coach out there. Get one of Trent Dilfer's QB gurus to focus all of their time and energy on our QB talent.

Michael Lindsey 7 years, 8 months ago

I agree with your suggestion to hire Bowen as HC, even better would be to remove the interim tag today to facilitate recruiting

Joe Ross 7 years, 8 months ago

I agree with most of what you say. Discipline on the field was a problem for the last two coaches and quarterback development never happened under either of them. But if I had a choice between a great line and an average quarterback, versus a great quarterback and an average line, there is no question which would be the priority. Certainly the line would be. A great QB would have his greatness hidden by ineffectual players in front of him. I have to disagree then with your statement about a QB coach being a higher priority than OL talent.

Erich Hartmann 7 years, 8 months ago

Even a B-grade QB can be made to look really good if he has all day to throw the ball (we need better O-line play, recruits, and development.) I agree with everything the article is saying. As Bowen laments, we have precious little in the pipeline because of poor recruiting.

Micky Baker 7 years, 8 months ago

Next season, it will probably be best to start freshmen and sophomores on that O-line except for Larry. Larry needs to trust his abilities and his size and not get any more false starts, or he's not going to play next season, IMO. He'll be suited up, but he won't play if he keeps getting false starts that take us from a 3rd and 3 to an 3rd and 8. He's so big that he get's flagged for holding sometimes when he just flat out physically outmatches the guy that he is blocking, but those false start penalties don't ever need to happen. With Cummings, Millweard, and Willis we seem to have good enough QBs if our offensive line get's fixed. We also have no choice to but to recruit RBs as a priority for the rest of this class and the upcoming class of 2016. Cozart should be moved to WR next spring. He is athletic enough to benefit the team at that position, but his mental aspect is probably the main reason that he wasn't successful at QB this season.

There are other areas that need to be a priority as well, particularly on the defense.

Linebacker Secondary D-line

Suzi Marshall 7 years, 8 months ago

OL, the hardest thing to develop, means everything in football. We are in unbelievably bad shape for next year, which looks to be 1-11 type season. No way we will be able to win a Big 12 game, unless something really odd only playing 10 games.

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