Healthy competition for Kansas carries

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Jocques Crawford came to Kansas intent on earning a starting job in the Jayhawks' backfield.

His challenge with Jake Sharp to replace Brandon McAnderson as Kansas' top rushing threat has been one of the most intriguing early personnel battles during training camp.

After five practices, Sharp is firmly in front. Crawford, who was the national junior college player of the year last season at Cisco (Texas) Junior College, has failed to practice with the Kansas starting unit so far in practice.

"Jocques is a talented and he can do a lot of things," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said "He's a little rusty and his footwork needs work, but you can tell he has the ability to accelerate to the hole. He's just making the transition from junior college football to the Big 12.

"You can see he's far from a finished product, but he's coming along. He's shown signs of being a very talented guy."

Sharp, a 5-foot-10, 190-pounder, is the second-leading returning rusher among Big 12 running backs after producing 821 yards and seven touchdowns while spelling McAnderson in 2007.

And he's proving something along the way. He was a lightly-regarded national prospect despite setting the Kansas state record with 6,524 career rushing yards at Central High School in Salina, Kan. Some doubted his abilities because of the lack of competition he faced before college.

"A Kansas kid is equally as talented as those from Texas or Florida, but he's not going to have the hype," Sharp said. "You know all those (high recruits) who can do all that stuff. But the thing I wanted to show Kansas kids if you work hard you can play for KU. You can go win Orange Bowls."

Crawford would have fit into that similar category after leading all junior college backs with 1,935 yards last season. He chose to come to Kansas over offers from TCU, Arizona and Alabama.

"It's been kind of tough coming from a junior college. The workouts have been kind
of difficult," Crawford said. "Right now I'm on the right track as far as getting stronger and learning the playbook."

Crawford and Sharp would appear to be an ideal complimentary pair of backs, with differing strengths. Sharp is the more elusive ball carrier and a better pass receiver. And the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Crawford is a bruising between-the-tackles battering ram who can wear down defenses with repeated use.

But he's learning that he might have to wait before he can crack Kansas' playing rotation.

"It's been very hard having to take the back door to Division I," Crawford said. "If you want to become that star player, you have to do what you have to do to get on the field. You have to be patient."