Big 12: JaCorey Shepherd

Poll: All-Big 12 biggest snub?

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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It’s honors day on the Big 12 blog with our All-Big 12 first team being released earlier today.

There were plenty of no-brainers, some breakout stars and a couple surprises as Jake Trotter, Max Olson and I debated the Big 12’s best while putting together the team. Several tough decisions had to be made and quality players snubbed as we sought to honor the conference’s best players.

SportsNation

Who was the biggest snub on ESPN.com's All-Big 12 first team?

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    22%
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    37%
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    13%
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    21%
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    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,102)

Now it’s your turn to get involved. Who was the biggest snub?

TCU receiver Josh Doctson emerged as a legitimate No. 1 target for Trevone Boykin, using his length and athleticism to create mismatches all over the field. He was a big-play machine, scoring nine touchdowns while averaging 16.3 yards per reception to help transform TCU's passing attack.

The linebacker spot was a tough debate with Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks finding himself left out in the cold. Hicks returned from a season-ending Achilles injury in 2013 to finish with 98 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss as a critical member of one of the Big 12's top defenses.

It’s hard to ignore the sheer production of Texas Tech linebacker/defensive end Pete Robertson, but we did. The lone bright spot on the Red Raiders’ defense, Robertson lead the Big 12 with 12 sacks and added 14.5 tackles for loss. Quite simply, Tech’s bowl-less campaign made it hard for Robertson to force himself into the first team.

Oklahoma cornerback Zack Sanchez tied with TCU first-teamer Chris Hackett for the Big 12 lead with six interceptions. The feast or famine aspect to his game was readily apparent but he never stopped competing, constantly creating turnovers for the Sooners. Yet it’s hard to find a first-team spot for a defensive back on a defense that allowed 272.7 passing yards per game, finishing No. 115 among FBS teams.

Kansas cornerback JaCorey Shepherd was quietly excellent for Clint Bowen’s defense, leading the Big 12 with 18 passes defensed. Much like Sanchez, receivers knew they were in for a battle anytime they lined up opposite Shepherd, yet he went largely overshadowed thanks to the ridiculous production of teammate Ben Heeney.

Who do you think was the biggest snub? Or is there another snub?

Big 12 players in Week 10 spotlight

October, 30, 2014
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A closer look at eight players who have a chance to shine this week:

TCU WR Emanuel Porter: If Josh Doctson isn't able to play, Porter is in line to start. Even if Doctson, Boykin's go-to receiver, plays but is limited, you'll see a lot more from the true freshman, whose route-running and blocking earned praise this week. He scored his first career TD last week. He'll get another this week at West Virginia.

Kansas CB JaCorey Shepherd: His biggest supporters say Shepherd is quietly having an All-Big 12 caliber season. Time to prove it against Baylor and the best group of receivers in the conference. They will test his speed and smarts. Here's a great chance for Shepherd to make a statement.

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Brown
AP Photo/Michael ThomasMalcolm Brown is due for his first 100-yard game of the season.
Baylor QB Bryce Petty: In his three October games, Petty had an average QBR of 51.5. He had some real ups and downs, and then a bye week to correct and move forward. We'll see the sharp, poised, all-conference caliber quarterback return to form this week against the Jayhawks.

Texas RB Malcolm Brown: Texas was supposed to have one of the best running games in the Big 12, but still hasn't had a 100-yard rusher this season. Texas Tech has the second-worst run defense among Power 5 conference teams. So now would be a pretty good week for Brown and Johnathan Gray to change that trend.

West Virginia WR Kevin White: We have no reason to ever list him here, really, as he's constantly breaking out. But how will White respond after the first quiet game of his stellar season? You know Gary Patterson will have a good plan for slowing down the league's top receiver.

Oklahoma State RB Desmond Roland: After a nice five-game stretch in which he put up 447 rushing yards and six TDs, Roland was limited to 37 yards on 12 carries in the loss to West Virginia. Daxx Garman is going to need major help from Roland and Tyreek Hill to keep the Kansas State defense honest.

Iowa State WR D'Vario Montgomery: He's hauled in nine catches in each of his last two games after a slow start to the season. You can't really send bracket coverage his way, either, with how Allen Lazard and E.J. Bibbs are playing. But can Montgomery burn the Sooners secondary?

Kansas State DB Randall Evans: Dante Barnett earned player-of-the-week honors, but Evans was just as good against Texas. The Wildcats' secondary doesn't get a lot of hype, but they have some playmakers who will give Oklahoma State's Garman fits.
Unfortunately it's the time of year when off-the-field missteps litter the headlines as college football players remind us they aren't much different than many other college students outside of their athletic endeavors. And while occasional misdeeds are getting the headlines other college football players are going out of their way to make a positive impact.

With that in mind, it's never a bad time to look at guys who impact their football team on the field yet strive to have a positive impact on their worlds off the field as well. Here are five Big 12 players to root for this fall, regardless of your normal allegiances:

Deep snapper Nate Boyer, Texas

If you aren't cheering for Boyer to excel, something is wrong with you, die-hard fans of the Sooners, Bears, Red Raiders included. His road to becoming the Longhorns long snapper has been well-documented, from his exploits as a Green Beret to his time in Darfur. Boyer has been a solid special teams' contributor at UT during the past two seasons. The recipient of the 2012 Disney Spirit Award, which is given annually to college football's most inspirational figure, Boyer is entering his final season at UT.

Quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor

Petty isn't just exceptional on the field. He's a guy whose impacts lives off the field as well. The reigning Big 12 offensive player of the year is active in Big Brothers, Big Sisters and FCA. He also has spent time in Kenya on a mission trip with fellow Baylor athletes in 2011 and was a finalist for the Big 12 male sportsperson of the year in 2013. On the field, Petty is a guy who knows how to lead, shoulders the blame during tough times, brings a positive attitude to the Bears' football squad and elite production behind center. Petty's exploits during his time in Waco, Texas are probably coming to an NCAA student-athlete commercial near you at some point in the future.

 

Defensive end Ryan Mueller, Kansas State One of the Big 12's top sack masters, Mueller befriended Kaiden Schroeder, a nine-year-old boy who suffers from Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Their relationship lead to one of the Big 12's most memorable moments in the spring when Schroeder scored a touchdown in the Wildcats' spring game. Mueller, who had 11.5 sacks in 2013, was a finalist for the Big 12 male sportsperson of the year and has been named as one of KSU's captains for the 2014 season.

Cornerback JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas Another guy who is active with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Shepherd also volunteers at local elementary schools. He won KU's Galen Fiss Award, which is given for exemplary service to the community and campus. On the field, he's a impact cornerback and kick returner for the Jayhawks leading KU with 15 passes defended in 2013. He was a finalist for the Big 12 male sportsperson of the year.

 

Quarterback Trevor Knight, Oklahoma

Knight is just starting to approach his potential on the field but he's already made a mark off it. The Allstate Sugar Bowl MVP has gone to Haiti twice as a member of OU's “Sooners4Haiti” contingent and is active in FCA, often appearing as a public speaker when his schedule allows. On the field, he's developing as a leader and playmaker and could rise to battle Petty for All-Big 12 honors with consistent performances in 2014.

 
Earlier Thursday, we concluded our 22-round draft of current Big 12 players. Below are the three lineup outcomes of that draft, and as you can see, each of us went in different directions.

SportsNation

Who had the best imaginary Big 12 player draft?

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    30%
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    38%
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    32%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,440)

Like the St. Louis Rams, Max and Brandon built up their defensive lines before worrying about the rest of their rosters. While I grabbed the best quarterback in the league and surrounded him with protection and weapons.

After each lineup, read our final takes on our teams. Then, decide who drafted best in the weekly Big 12 poll.

BRANDON CHATMON’S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Brandon says about his team: “Offensively, as soon as Petty was gone with the first pick I knew I wouldn’t take a quarterback until my final pick. Knight could be the steal of the draft. Versatility is the name of the game with the rest of the offense. We can put Pierson and Smallwood in the backfield and go read option or really ruin your Saturday and throw Daje back there in the Diamond. When you bring more guys in the box, you leave Seales and Lockett one-on-one. Or we can just go five wide and you can try to cover running backs who run routes like receivers with your linebackers. And an experienced offensive line will be the foundation of it all. Defensively, it would be wise for opposing quarterbacks to tell their families to stay home when facing this group. We’re going to man up and have our mail forwarded to the opposing backfield and make you want to take your ball and go home. And with a secondary full of coverage guys, I’m not concerned about the back end of the defense holding up. We’ll win more battles than we lose. By the final whistle, my team will have earned the moniker 'Chatmon’s chaos creators' with Tapper, Reed, Brown, Hunter, Alexander and Robertson living in your backfield.”

MAX OLSON'S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Max says about his team: “You do not want to play against my team. That was my goal going in, and I constructed exactly the team I wanted. I have a great QB in Webb who gets to throw to Goodley, one of the nation's best receivers, and he'd help Jaxon Shipley put up Jordan Shipley numbers. I have the two-back punch of Linwood and Gray. I have Hill, who can do everything, and a good line. We're going to spread the ball around like crazy. Good luck stopping that. On defense, you have Fields, Oakman and Grissom all rushing the passer. That's deadly. We can go three-man fronts or even put Oakman in the middle, letting the 6-foot-8 stud swat your passes down. And while you're worrying about him and Grissom, you have the Big 12's best defensive player [Fields] coming after you. Hager and Shannon will hold it down at the second level, and the secondary is full of playmakers. This is a fun team, plain and simple, and one that can frustrate the heck out of anybody.”

JAKE TROTTER’S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Jake says about his team: “Max and Brandon are good at talking smack. I’ll give them that. But my players do their talking on the field. Once I was fortunate to land reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Bryce Petty as my quarterback, my goal was two-fold: to keep him upright from pressure off the edge; and, to surround him with firepower. I accomplished both ends, and then some. I wasn’t able to get either of the two elite receivers in the league in Goodley or Lockett. But I put together the best overall receiving corps in Grant, Shepard and Bundrage, who could all deliver 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2014. On top of that, I snagged the best pass-catching tight end on the board in Bibbs, as well as Brown, so that we can pound the ball between the tackles when we need. Speaking of tackles, aware that Brandon and Max were focused almost solely on their pass rush in the early rounds, I also added two of the most reliable pass-protecting bookends in the league in Drango and Williams. Defensively, I can bring pressure, too, with Mueller and Striker, who last season respectively placed second and fourth in the Big 12 in sacks. Castleman and Britz are roadblocks, Heeney and Dawson are tackle machines and my entire secondary has All-Big 12 potential. We don’t talk. We just dominate.”
Following up on NFL draft weekend, we’ve been conducting our own draft, picking from current Big 12 players to fill out three 22-man lineups.

Below is a recap of the first 15 rounds of the draft from the past two days, followed by rounds 16-22.

As another reminder, this is NOT a Top 25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league lies, and the different strategies to putting a team together from the league’s present talent pool.

Jake Trotter:
Brandon Chatmon:
Max Olson:
Round 16

  • Olson: WR/RB Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
  • Chatmon: OLB Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
  • Trotter: OLB Brandon Golson, West Virginia
  • Analysis: "To combat the offensive attacks I would face in the Big 12, I'm going with a 3-4 on defense. Golson, who led the Big 12 in forced fumbles last season, is another playmaking outside linebacker who would fit in nicely in this scheme opposite Striker." -- Trotter
[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray, Tanner Jacobson
AP Photo/Eric GayGetting potential Big 12 rushing leader Johnathan Gray in the 17th round could be a big steal for Max Olson.
Round 17

  • Trotter: LB Paul Dawson, TCU
  • Chatmon: C Dominic Espinosa, Texas
  • Olson: RB Johnathan Gray, Texas
  • Analysis: “I ended up getting a potential All-Big 12 running back in the 17th round. So I feel pretty good about that. Gray should be healthy for the opener, and he leads all returning Big 12 rushers with 86 rushing yards per game last season." -- Olson
Round 18

  • Olson: OT Troy Baker, Baylor
  • Chatmon: SS Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: OG Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
  • Analysis: "I wanted a safety who is comfortable in holding his own in coverage, while also having the ability to make plays all over the field. Hayes is the guy. With Worley, Shepherd, White, Barnett and Hayes in the secondary, I can unleash the rest of my defense on the quarterback and feel comfortable about my secondary holding its own against anyone." -- Chatmon
Round 19

  • Trotter: OG Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
  • Chatmon: WR Tony Pierson, Kansas
  • Olson: SS Terrell Burt, Baylor
  • Analysis: "With Max and Brandon hoarding centers, I needed to attack the interior of my offensive line. Kasitati can excel manning either guard or center, and Glowinski is one of the league’s top returning guards." -- Trotter
Round 20

  • Olson: OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
  • Chatmon: WR Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
  • Trotter: WR Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
  • Analysis: "The guys I wanted for my second guard spot weren't available at this round, so I'm going with the mammoth "Big V" Vaitai (6-foot-6, 308 pounds) and moving one of my other tackle selections inside. I ended up with a fairly good offensive line, which was pretty much my plan going in." -- Olson
Round 21

  • Trotter: CB Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
  • Chatmon: WR Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
  • Olson: LB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
  • Analysis: “I picked up Bundrage in the previous round to seal up what I feel is the best all-around receiving corps, even if I didn’t get Goodley or Lockett. Tribune, the only true freshman to play for Iowa State in the past two seasons, is a corner with a ton of upside and, paired with Kevin Peterson, should provide me plenty of tenaciousness against the pass.” -- Trotter
Round 22

  • Olson: WR Jaxon Shipley, Texas
  • Chatmon: QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: C Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
  • Analysis: “I just got the steal of the draft, and I knew I would wait until the final round to do so. As soon as Jake snapped up Petty, I knew I would be content with Davis Webb or Trevor Knight and wouldn’t draft a quarterback until the final round. The fact that Max opted for Webb made things even better for me as Knight has the versatility to run a run-heavy offense or spread things out and use his arm. He fits perfectly with the versatility I was striving for with each pick.” -- Chatmon
There’s a weak link on every team, but also a strength. This series will look at the strongest and weakest position groups for each Big 12 team heading into the fall.

On Wednesday, we continue the series with Kansas.

Strongest position: Secondary

The Jayhawks have arguably the best returning cornerback duo in the Big 12 with JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald. They combined for 27 passes defensed in 2013, each ranking in the top 10 in the conference in that category. And Shepherd and McDonald still have room to grow as individual players.

KU’s safeties are just as productive. Isaiah Johnson was the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year after making 73 tackles and intercepting five passes during his first season in the conference. Fellow safety Cassius Sendish was right behind Johnson with 67 tackles of his own.

Add cornerbacks Kevin Short and Greg Allen, who looked ready to contribute during the spring, and the Jayhawks secondary brings experience, production and depth to the field on Saturdays this fall, three traits several other Big 12 teams wish they had on their rosters.

Weakest position: Offensive line

If KU has any hope of John Reagan’s offense taking off during his first season as offensive coordinator, the offensive line will have to reach new heights.

The Jayhawks return a league-worst 34 career starts along the offensive line, with All-Big 12 honorable mention guard Ngalu Fusimalohi as the lone returnee with double-digit starts (12). Reagan, who is the offensive line coach in addition to his coordinator duties, is tasked with making the inexperienced group the foundation of his offense’s success.

KU has five different returnees with starting experience and will add ESPN 300 center Jacob Bragg into the mix this summer so the Jayhawks have options to work with. Head coach Charlie Weis has promised the Jayhawks will strive to put their top five offensive linemen on the field, regardless of their previous position, so the summer and preseason could feature plenty of shuffling along the offensive line.

Fusimalohi is a great place to start but plenty of work remains for Reagan and Weis to transform this unit one of the strengths of the team.

Imaginary Big 12 players draft, Part II

May, 14, 2014
May 14
9:00
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Following up off of NFL draft weekend, we’ve been conducting our own draft, picking current Big 12 players with the premise of filling out three 22-man lineups.

So far, this draft has been revealing, accentuating the prospective strength of the conference (defensive line) in 2014, as well as some of the potential shortcomings.

As a reminder, this is NOT a top-25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league lies, and the different strategies to cobbling a team together from the league’s present talent pool.

Below is a recap of the first seven rounds of the draft from Monday, followed by rounds 8-15. We’ll conclude the draft Thursday by picking the final seven rounds.

Jake Trotter:
Brandon Chatmon:
Max Olson:
Round 8

  • Olson: LB Bryce Hager, Baylor
  • Chatmon: CB Kevin White, TCU
  • Trotter: TE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
  • Analysis: "In Grant, Shepard and now Bibbs, I have three of the most difficult matchups for opposing defensive backfields in the league. With Petty at QB, and two of the best pass-protecting tackles in the country, I feel like I'll be able to fling the ball at will." -- Trotter
[+] EnlargeCody Whitehair
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesKansas State's Cody Whitehair provides versatility on the offensive line.
Round 9

  • Trotter: RB Malcolm Brown, Texas
  • Chatmon: OG Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
  • Olson: DT Andrew Billings, Baylor
  • Analysis: “Whitehair should help solidify my offensive line. His ability to play multiple positions up front will be valuable and I had to start addressing my offensive line before all of the top guys were off the board. He’ll join Clark to give me a solid foundation.” -- Chatmon
Round 10

  • Olson: LT Daniel Koenig, Oklahoma State
  • Chatmon: SS Dante Barnett, Kansas State
  • Trotter: DT Travis Britz, Kansas State
  • Analysis: "Time to start building my offensive line. I don't love that many linemen in the league this year, honestly, so that's why I waited. But Koenig is a good one, and he can play either tackle spot." -- Olson
Round 11

  • Trotter: DT James Castleman, Oklahoma State
  • Chatmon: C Tom Farniok, Iowa State
  • Olson: CB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
  • Analysis: "With my offense looking strong across the board, I'm circling back to my defense. I have two of the league's very best getting to the quarterback in Striker and Mueller. Now, it's time to solidify the interior run defense. I got just the guys in Castleman and Britz." -- Trotter
Round 12

  • Olson: RB Shock Linwood, Baylor
  • Chatmon: LB Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: CB Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
  • Analysis: "I went with Alexander because I love his versatility and instincts. He should be able to hold up in coverage at times but can blitz too. To top it all off, he's just a sophomore who has barely scratched the surface of his ability. Win, win." -- Chatmon
Round 13

  • Trotter: SS Karl Joseph, West Virginia
  • Chatmon: CB JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas
  • Olson: C BJ Finney, Kansas State
  • Analysis: "After loading up on defense early, I'm collecting pieces offensively. I think I got two good ones in the veteran Finney, and the budding Linwood." -- Olson
Round 14

  • Olson: OG Quinton Spain, West Virginia
  • Chatmon: RT Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: FS Chris Hackett, TCU
  • Analysis: “I got my lockdown corner a couple rounds ago in Peterson, and with these last two picks, got safeties capable of being All-Big 12 performers this season.” -- Trotter
Round 15

  • Trotter: LB Ben Heeney, Kansas
  • Chatmon: WR Daje Johnson, Texas
  • Olson: DE Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma
  • Analysis: "Daje makes plays. A lot of them. Nothing more needs to be said here." -- Chatmon

Since last week, we've been analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. We conclude the series with Kansas' projected post-spring depth chart.

OFFENSE

QB: Montell Cozart (So.), Jake Heaps (Sr.), Michael Cummings (So.), T.J. Millweard (So.)

[+] EnlargeMontell Cozart
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerMontell Cozart was the clear choice at quarterback for the Jayhawks this spring.
Cozart was clearly the Jayhawks’ best quarterback during the spring game, so it made perfect sense when Kansas coach Charlie Weis named him the starter shortly after spring practice. If the sophomore continues to develop as a passer, he could help KU’s offense take a clear step forward. Heaps' status is unclear but, with Weis making it clear Cozart is the man, there’s no reason for him to stick around. Millweard and Cummings should be solid behind Cozart. It’s not the best group of quarterbacks in the league, but it’s not the worst, either.

RB: Brandon Bourbon (Sr.), Darrian Miller (Jr.), Taylor Cox (Sr.)

Bourbon had a solid spring and Miller returns after finishing second on the squad with 322 rushing yards in 2013. Yet it won’t be easy to replace James Sims, who was a mainstay in KU’s backfield for four seasons. Freshmen Corey Avery and Traevohn Wrench join De'Andre Mann as newcomers in the summer. KU should be able to replace Sims with a combination of these six running backs and its running game should be solid, particularly with Cozart providing a running threat at quarterback as well.

WR: Nick Harwell (Sr.), Tony Pierson (Sr.), Rodriguez Coleman (Jr.), Justin McCay (Sr.), Andrew Turzilli (Sr.)
TE: Jimmay Mundine (Sr.), Ben Johnson (RFr.)

With Harwell and Pierson, the Jayhawks could have two of the Big 12’s top big-play creators this fall. Both guys can be a handful in the open field and can turn a short gain into a long touchdown. Coleman came on in the spring and could provide another target for Cozart. The Jayhawks receivers looked solid in the spring. Now they just need to carry that momentum into actual production in the fall or end up being considered one of the conference’s worst groups of receivers again.

C: Keyon Haughton (Jr.), Joe Gibson (RFr.)
G: Ngalu Fusimalohi (Sr.), Joey Bloomfield (RFr.)
G: Mike Smithburg (Sr.), Bryan Peters (Jr.)
T: Damon Martin (So.), Zach Fondal (Sr.)
T: Pat Lewandowski (Sr.) Brian Beckmann (So.)

The Jayhawks' offensive line situation seems fairly fluid, so expect KU to continue to search for its five best offensive linemen during preseason camp. Fusimalohi is the best of the bunch and anchors the offensive front. This group had its moments last season, but needs to play better for KU’s offense to really take off.

DEFENSE

DL: Ben Goodman (So.), Tyler Holmes (So.)
DL: Andrew Bolton (Jr.), T.J. Semke (Jr.)
DL: Keon Stowers (Sr.), Tedarian Johnson (Sr.)

Goodman and Stowers are returning starters for the Jayhawks defense. Stowers is solid in the middle and Goodman has the talent to break out in 2014. The unit has a solid group of starters, but needs additional depth.

BUCK: Michael Reynolds (Sr.), Marcus Jenkins-Moore (Jr.) Victor Simmons (Sr.)
LB: Ben Heeney (Sr.), Courtney Arnick (So.)
LB: Jake Love (Jr.), Schyler Miles (Jr.)

This is a solid and deep group of linebackers, with several players competing for a job. Outside of Heeney and Love, nobody’s job could be safe, with players such as Miles and Arnick looking like contributors.

CB: Dexter McDonald (Sr.), Ronnie Davis (Jr.)
CB: JaCorey Shepherd (Sr.), Michael Mesh (Jr.)
NB: Kevin Short (Jr.), Greg Allen (So.)
S: Cassius Sendish (Sr.), Tevin Shaw (So.)
S: Isaiah Johnson (Jr.), Anthony Smithson (So.)

The Jayhawks have a solid secondary full of playmakers. McDonald and Shepherd can hold their own at cornerback, and Sendish and Johnson are a pair of active safeties. Short was one of the stars of KU’s spring practice. This starting unit could rank among the Big 12’s best if it continues to improve heading into the fall.
Our breakdown of the 10 best players at the moment on every team in the Big 12 wraps up on Friday.

These lists don’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus yet. Rather, they include only the players currently on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now.

Last but not least, the Kansas Jayhawks:

1. LB Ben Heeney: The best Big 12 defender who is not a household name. Heeney finished with 87 tackles as a junior, recording double-digit stops in six of the 10 games in which he played in 2013. He has been a bright light on the Jayhawks' defense for the past two seasons.

[+] EnlargeTony Pierson
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsTony Pierson missed five games last season, but has more than 1,000 rushing yards in his career at Kansas.
2. RB/WR Tony Pierson: The senior is one of the Big 12’s most explosive playmakers when healthy. Concerns about a head injury limited his big-play production as a junior, but if he returns to full health in 2014, he’s sure to strike fear in the hearts of Big 12 defensive coordinators.

3. S Isaiah Johnson: He was easily the most active newcomer to KU’s defense in 2013. He earned Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year honors while starting all 12 games at safety. Johnson finished with 73 tackles and five interceptions to help an improved Jayhawks defense.

4. G Ngalu Fusimalohi: The lone consistent anchor in KU’s offensive line a year ago, Fusimalohi played a key role in James Sims’ second consecutive 1,000-yard season. The strong yet fluid guard will provide a solid starting point for John Reagan in his first season as KU’s offensive coordinator.

5. CB JaCorey Shepherd: The former receiver was a playmaker in the Jayhawks secondary and also provided a threat as a returner. Strong performances against TCU and Oklahoma were a glimpse at the type of player he can be. If he continues to improve, he could rank among the Big 12’s top cornerbacks in 2014.

6. LB Michael Reynolds: The Jayhawks' most productive pass rusher, Reynolds led KU with 6.5 sacks and added 10 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. One of the most consistently productive KU defenders, Reynolds had at least one tackle for loss in six of 12 games in 2013.

7. TE Jimmay Mundine: Mundine could be one of the Big 12’s best pass-catching threats if he becomes more consistent. His 20 receptions for 229 yards and five touchdowns made him KU’s best receiving threat in the middle of the field a year ago. With better quarterback play and more consistent hands, Mundine could double that receptions total this fall.

8. S Cassius Sendish: The senior slid right into the starting safety spot, starting 12 games in his debut season with KU. He immediately emerged as one of the most active defenders on the roster, finishing with 68 tackles, which ranked third on the team.

9. CB Dexter McDonald: He joins with Shepherd to give KU a solid cornerback duo. His 12 pass breakups placed him eighth in the Big 12 and he added two interceptions during his first season at Kansas.

10. P Trevor Pardula: He finished second in the Big 12 in net punting and also led the conference in punts inside the 10-yard line (14). Pardula got plenty of work, with 84 punts, and he did his job well while also handling the Jayhawks kickoff duties.

Recapping the series:

April 3: Iowa State
April 2: West Virginia
April 1: TCU
March 31: Texas Tech
March 28: Kansas State
March 27: Texas
March 26: Oklahoma State
March 25: Oklahoma
March 24: Baylor
Kansas kicked off its spring football drills on Thursday with a lot of work to be done. The Jayhawks’ to-do list is lengthy, with finding a quarterback and offensive playmakers sitting atop of it.

Offensive returner ready to take next step: New offensive coordinator John Reagan wants to use the spring to find playmakers for his offense. Receiver Rodriguez Coleman showed signs of playmaking ability, averaging 26 yards per catch while finishing third on the team with 208 receiving yards on eight catches. He was inconsistent and never emerged as a staple in KU’s game plans, but he has talent, and this spring provides the opportunity to show Reagan he wants to be a major part of the offense.

Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Cornerback Kevin Short didn’t play in one snap in 2013, but this spring he could emerge as KU’s No. 3 cornerback and give the Jayhawks defense options and versatility alongside starters JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald. Short, who signed in February 2013 but was ruled ineligible in September, is a big cornerback (6-foot-2, 182 pounds) with athleticism and return skills.

[+] EnlargeCozart
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsKansas quarterback Montell Cozart hopes to get a chance to build on his freshman season.
Redshirt freshman to watch: Tight end Ben Johnson could emerge as a player who deserves playing time this spring. If that happens, he could join Jimmay Mundine to give the Jayhawks two talented pass catchers at tight end.

“I think he has a huge upside,” KU coach Charlie Weis said. “He hasn't played a down yet, so you can't anoint anyone at this point, but I think that Ben Johnson could be pressing [to play].”

Most significant position battle: Reagan needs someone to trigger the Jayhawks offense at quarterback. Jake Heaps, Michael Cummings, Montell Cozart and T.J. Millweard are the main contenders for the starting position, and Weis hopes the competition is settled this spring. It’s Heaps' last chance to prove himself as a quality college quarterback, Cummings is the forgotten man, Cozart hopes to put his freshman mistakes behind him and Millweard is looking to show he is the future at quarterback after transferring from UCLA before the 2013 season.

Key midterm enrollee: Offensive lineman Keyon Haughton could provide depth, and he adds competition along the offensive line during the spring. At 6-2 and 309 pounds, the junior brings terrific size to KU’s offensive front.

Question that could be answered: Weis hopes the quarterback competition ends before the summer. He was very candid in saying a prolonged quarterback derby wouldn’t be the ideal scenario because “it means you don’t have one.” KU has talent and options at the position, but if the Jayhawks can’t get better play from that position in 2014, their chances for a breakout season under Weis will decrease.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: Who will replace James Sims at running back? Brandon Bourbon and Darrian Miller saw spot duty behind Sims last season, but KU signed three quality running back prospects in junior college transfer De'Andre Mann and freshmen Traevohn Wrench and Corey Avery. It would be a major surprise if the starting running back spot is finalized heading into summer workouts.
As we await the start of spring ball, we’ve been examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12. Thursday, we close this series out with special teams.

1. TCU: Honorable mention All-Big 12 place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom was 13 of 14 on field goals inside the 50 last season and drilled a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter at Kansas State. B.J. Catalon was second in the league in kickoff returns and took one to the house in the opener against LSU. Freshman Cameron Echols-Luper took his first punt return 51 yards and had a 41-yarder in the season finale against Baylor. Brandon Carter has had moments in the return game in the past as well. Ethan Perry will be a three-year starter at punter, rounding out a formidable special teams unit.

2. Baylor: Corey Coleman led the league in kick returns, and Levi Norwood scored twice off punt returns. The Bears are loaded with potential game-breakers in the return game and welcome back All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth. If Kyle Peterson proves to be a reliable replacement for departing kicker Aaron Jones, this special teams unit will have no weakness.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAlong with being a top-flight wide receiver, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett can also provide big plays in the return game.
3. Kansas State: The Wildcats feature one of the best kickoff return men in the game in Tyler Lockett, who doubles as an All-American WR candidate. Jack Cantele, the younger brother of All-Big 12 K-State kicker Anthony Cantele, only missed two field goal attempts as a sophomore and nailed a 41-yarder as time expired to beat TCU. Defensive tackle Travis Britz also returns after leading the nation with four blocked kicks.

4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders will feature a lethal one-two punch in the return game in Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, who took a kick back for a touchdown in the bowl game. Receiver Jordan Davis also has return experience. Kicker Ryan Bustin returns after garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose the most explosive return duo in the league in Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch. Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross could be among the players who replace them. Oklahoma boasts the league’s most efficient returning place-kicker in Michael Hunnicutt, who nailed 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. The Sooners have a secret weapon in Nick Hodgson, who led the league in touchback kickoffs last season. Jed Barnett, fifth in the Big 12 in punting average last season, returns as well.

6. Iowa State: The Cyclones had four players make first- or second-team All-Big 12 last season, and departing punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was one of them. Replacing his production won’t be easy, though incoming three-star freshman Colin Downing will try. DeVondrick Nealy, Jarvis West and Aaron Wimberly all had several dynamite moments returning kicks. Cole Netten was 13-of-18 on field goals as a freshman,

7. West Virginia: Nick O'Toole leads the Mountaineers on special teams. The “Boomstache” was 15th nationally in punting last season. The Mountaineers have all their returners back in Wendell Smallwood, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson, though more big plays are needed from this group -- the Mountaineers ranked last in the league in both punt and kick returns in 2013. Josh Lambert comes back after making 17 of 23 field goals as a freshman. The Mountaineers also enjoy a luxury in Michael Molinari, who can do a little bit of everything.

8. Texas: The Longhorns lose their punter and their kicker in consensus All-American Anthony Fera. That hurts. Nick Jordan, who made nine of 15 field goals in 2012, could reclaim his job. Daje Johnson -- who returned a punt for a TD against Oklahoma -- Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Jaxon Shipley all have experience returning.

9. Kansas: Return men Connor Embree (punts) and JaCorey Shepherd (kicks) both come back. The Jayhawks also return kicker Matthew Wyman, who connected on a game-winning 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech. The freshman, however, only made two field goals after that and eventually lost that job to departing senior Ron Doherty. Trevor Pardula was third in the Big 12 in punting as a junior and received votes for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.

10. Oklahoma State: After enjoying All-Americans Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp the last few years, the Cowboys were finally mediocre in the kicking game last season. Ben Grogan struggled as a freshman, making just 11 of 18 field goals while missing two critical attempts in the early-season loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys were also last in the league in punting. Oklahoma State signed three-star kicker Zach Sinor with hopes of curing some of those ills. The Cowboys were still dynamic in the return game, but with Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart both gone, Oklahoma State could lean on juco transfer and track star Tyreek Hill for a jolt on returns.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: DBs

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
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As we await the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Wednesday with defensive backs. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the defensive back groups going into the spring:

1. TCU: TCU has been tenacious defending the pass since joining the league, and even without potential first-round pick Jason Verrett, that shouldn’t change in 2014. Sam Carter was the only non-senior to earn first-team or second-team All-Big 12 honors in the secondary last season, and Chris Hackett was one of the best underclassman defensive backs in the league last year. Derrick Kindred is primed to step into TCU’s third safety spot after playing a key role in the rotation. The Horned Frogs also add the nation’s No. 3 juco safety in Kenny Iloka. Throw in senior Geoff Hooker, and the Horned Frogs have an impressive five-man rotation at safety. At corner, Kevin White was honorable mention All-Big 12 last year, and will take over for Verrett as the primary corner. The Horned Frogs have several options at the other corner, including incoming three-star recruit Nick Foster.

2. Texas: After playing the nickel role last year, Quandre Diggs will settle back at cornerback in place of Carrington Byndom. Opposite Diggs will be the ultra-athletic Duke Thomas, who was so good in spring ball last year, he forced the coaches to move Diggs to nickelback. Together, Diggs and Thomas could give the Longhorns the best cornerback tandem in the league. Antwuan Davis, who redshirted in his first year, was an ESPN 300 signee and figures to play a big role somewhere in the secondary. Josh Turner (37 appearances) and Mykkele Thompson (12 starts in 2013) each bring a lot of experience at safety.

3. Oklahoma: Oklahoma graduates the heart and soul of the secondary in cornerback Aaron Colvin, who gutted his way through an array of injuries last year. But if the Sooners can find an adequate replacement for him, the Big 12’s best pass defense statistically in 2013 should be stout again. Julian Wilson (nickelback), Zack Sanchez (cornerback) and Quentin Hayes (strong safety) all return as starters, though Hayes could be pushed by Ahmad Thomas and incoming freshman Steven Parker for time. Hatari Byrd, an ESPN 300 signee last year, should step into the vacant spot at free safety. Cortez Johnson will try to fend off Stanvon Taylor, who played as a true freshman, for Colvin’s spot in the only real uncertain area of this secondary.

4. Kansas State: The Wildcats will miss All-Big 12 performer Ty Zimmerman, but his cohort, Dante Barnett, was one of the best young safeties in the league last year. Barnett was third on the team with 75 tackles and first with four interceptions. Randall Evans also returns after leading the team in pass breakups and gives the Wildcats a versatile defensive back. As usual, Bill Snyder will also be looking for some juco impact. He should get it in Danzel McDaniel, who was the No. 4 juco CB recruit in the country. Cornerback Jesse Mack also could prove to be a key juco signee. If both players pan out, this could become one of the better defensive backfields in the league.

5. West Virginia: The bad news is the Mountaineers had the Big 12’s worst pass defense last year. The good news is they bring back three starters. Karl Joseph has started the last two seasons at free safety, though he could slide to the strong side with Darwin Cook gone. Joseph has All-Big 12 potential, and he needs to elevate his game for the West Virginia defense to take another step forward. Veteran K.J. Dillon could be the front-runner for the job alongside Joseph, though Jeremy Tyler and Jarrod Harper will also be in the mix. West Virginia also brings back both starting cornerbacks in senior Ishmael Banks and Daryl Worley, who started as a freshman. The Mountaineers also signed Keishawn Richardson, the No. 8 juco CB, and Jaylon Myers, the No. 9 juco safety, for depth. Cornerback Dravon Henry, an ESPN 300 signee who had offers from Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State, could play immediately if one of West Virginia’s veterans struggle.

6. Kansas: The Jayhawks return all five starters from their secondary, including last year’s Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, strong safety Isaiah Johnson. Returning cornerbacks Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd, a converted wide receiver, were both honorable mention All-Big 12 selections and give the Jayhawks one of the better corner duos in the league. Free safety Cassius Sendish started every game and had 12 tackles in Kansas’ only Big 12 victory in 2013, over West Virginia. Nickelback Courtney Arnick started in six games as a redshirt freshman. If this group collectively improves, Kansas could field a solid defense in 2014.

7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose All-Big 12 cornerback Justin Gilbert, who might be selected high in the first round of the NFL draft after a stellar combine performance. The Cowboys welcome back one of the best young corners in the league in Kevin Peterson, who was terrific as a sophomore in coverage opposite Gilbert. Ashton Lampkin has experience, and he will likely fill the other corner spot unless someone else emerges. Lyndell Johnson, who made a transition from linebacker to safety last season, will take over full time at strong safety. The Cowboys will need someone else to emerge at the other safety in place of departed veteran starter Daytawion Lowe. Deric Robertson, Tre Flowers, Jordan Sterns, Taylor Lewis and Darius Curry, all from the 2013 recruiting class, are possibilities.

8. Texas Tech: How the Red Raiders retool here will be on one of the bigger spring storylines in Lubbock. Keenon Ward and Justis Nelson were thrown in the fire as freshmen last year, and they will be counted on to fill bigger roles. The gem of the incoming recruiting class, four-star cornerback Nigel Bethel II, could be asked – and has the capability – to play right away. The Red Raiders have to replace both starting safeties, including freshman Tanner Jacobson, who is going on a Mormon mission. To compensate, Tech signed six safeties, including Josh Keys, the No. 5 juco safety in the country, who had offers from Auburn, Georgia and Oklahoma State. Getting strong safety J.J. Gaines back from a season-ending injury will be a boost, too.

9. Baylor: The Bears are one of several teams in the league that were decimated in the secondary by graduation. Baylor loses four of its five starters, including All-American safety Ahmad Dixon. Safety Terrell Burt is the only returning starter, leaving the other four spots up for grabs. The Bears signed juco corners Tion Wright and Chris Sanders to help fill the void. Both are already on campus and will be battling Xavien Howard, Ryan Reid and Tyler Stephenson for a starting job. Orion Stewart, who backed up Dixon as a redshirt freshman, will likely step in his role, and fellow sophomore Kiante’ Griffin will be the favorite to take over at the nickel.

10. Iowa State: Cornerback Nigel Tribune was the only true freshman to play for the Cyclones last year, and he received votes as Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Tribune, however, is the only returning starter. Veteran safety mainstays Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield are gone. In response, the Cyclones will look for Devron Moore and Qujuan Floyd, the Nos. 6 and 7 juco safety recruits, respectively, to step in immediately.

Big 12 unsung heroes: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
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Here are the unsung heroes in the Big 12 for Week 8:

Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman: The Bears defense was outstanding in Baylor’s 71-7 win over Iowa State, and the sophomore played a key role with five tackles including two for loss, one quarterback hurry and one sack. He has recorded a sack in two of three Big 12 games and provides an athletic presence on the perimeter of BU’s defensive line. Frankly, the entire Bears defense should get the unsung hero label for the entire season. After all, BU’s offense wouldn’t be averaging 64.7 points per game if the defense didn’t keep giving them the ball back.

Iowa State safety Jacques Washington: The senior has been performing at an All-Big 12 level for the majority of the season. He had 12 tackles including 11 solo stops, one tackle for loss and one pass breakup in the Cyclones 71-7 loss. Washington has recorded double-digit tackles in three of ISU’s six games this season. It’s never a good omen to have a safety with a bunch of tackles each week but imagine where the Cyclones would be without him.

[+] EnlargeRoy Finch
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerOklahoma RB Roy Finch made the most of his touches against Kansas on Saturday.
Kansas cornerback JaCorey Shepherd: The junior finds his way onto this list for the second consecutive week as he keeps making plays for the Jayhawks defense. He was solid in coverage and finished with four tackles, one forced fumble and one interception in KU’s 34-19 loss to Oklahoma. Shepherd is one of the foundations of a much improved KU defense.

Oklahoma running back Roy Finch: The senior provided a spark for the Sooners despite limited touches. He averaged 8 yards per touch from the line of scrimmage and added 29 kick return yards. He finished with a team-high 93 all-purpose yards in OU's 34-19 win. Finch is a game-breaking player whom the Sooners need to get more involved in the offense if they hope to improve their 22.5 points per game average in Big 12 action.

Oklahoma State running back Rennie Childs: The true freshman running back provided a terrific spark for the Cowboys running game. He led OSU with nine carries for 45 yards including a 7-yard touchdown to seal the 24-10 win over TCU. He finished with 79 all-purpose yards after coming in the second half to spark the offense. Childs could be the answer for an OSU running game searching for answers during the heart of Big 12 play.

TCU safety Elisha Olabode: The senior did everything he could to prevent the Horned Frogs' fourth loss of the season. Olabode had seven tackles including six solo stops, one forced fumble and one interception in TCU’s 24-10 loss to Oklahoma State. Olabode is one of the main reasons TCU features one of the Big 12’s top secondaries.

Texas Tech receiver Bradley Marquez: It’s unusual to call a guy who had eight receptions for 112 yards unsung, but that’s what happens when you line up beside Jace Amaro, one of the best tight ends in college football. Seven of Marquez's eight catches resulted in a Red Raiders first down in TTU's 37-27 win over WVU. Marquez has been a quiet, yet consistent, threat for the Red Raiders offense throughout the season and took it up another notch with playmaker Jakeem Grant sidelined.

West Virginia running back Dreamius Smith: The Mountaineers’ offense showed signs it could be finding a rhythm, and Smith is part of the reason. The junior finished with 16 carries for 89 yards and two touchdowns in WVU's 37-27 loss to Texas Tech. Fellow running back Charles Sims has been a playmaker for the Mountaineers' offense for the majority of the season so if Smith can emerge as a consistent threat it will provide a solid 1-2 punch and make getting the passing game going a lot easier.

Big 12 unsung heroes: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
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Here are this week’s unsung heroes:

Linebacker Eddie Lackey, Baylor: Overshadowed by Bryce Hager’s 18-tackle performance, Lackey had a solid game in the Bears’ 35-25 win over Kansas State. He finished with 10 tackles, including eight solo stops, and a forced fumble. His active play is one of the reasons the Bears’ defense is playing better in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJarvis West
Jerod Foster/Icon SMIJarvis West's efforts on special teams provided a major boost for Iowa State.
Receiver Jarvis West, Iowa State: The Cyclones’ wideout helped keep his squad in the game with his special teams’ prowess. He had a 95-yard kickoff return for a score and added 46 punt return yards including a 38-yarder. West finished with 177 all-purpose yards, more than 100 yards more than the next best Cyclone.

Cornerback JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas: Shepherd did it all in the Jayhawks’ 27-17 loss to TCU. He had seven tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was a terrific performance in his return home for the former Mesquite (Texas) Horn standout.

Running back John Hubert, Kansas State: An overlooked aspect of Daniel Sams’ explosive day was Hubert’s increased production. The senior had 15 carries for 90 yards to provide a solid 1-2 running punch alongside Sams. Hubert clearly becomes a more productive player with a running threat at quarterback.

Linebacker Frank Shannon, Oklahoma: The sophomore had the quietest 16-tackle performance in recent memory. Shannon continued to be a consistent playmaker on OU’s defense, recording those 16 tackles and forcing a fumble in the Sooners’ 36-20 loss to Texas. He’s proving to be a player the Sooners can count on, week in and week out.

Linebacker Dalton Santos, Texas: The Longhorns were stout against the run in their 36-20 win over OU, and Santos played a key role. The sophomore made plays from sideline to sideline and was consistently around the football. He finished with six tackles including 1.5 tackles for loss. Santos has helped offset the loss of Jordan Hicks for the Longhorns’ defense.

Running back B.J. Catalon, TCU: Catalon continues to be a playmaker for the Horned Frogs, accounting for a team-high 122 yards. The sophomore averaged 9.38 yards per touch in TCU’s 27-17 win over Kansas. On an offense searching for playmakers, it seems like the Horned Frogs can’t get the ball in Catalon’s hands enough, particularly if he can take better care of the football.

Running back Sadale Foster, Texas Tech: One of three Red Raiders to rush for more than 80 yards, Foster averaged 9.7 yards per carry in Tech’s 42-35 win over Iowa State. He had nine carries for 87 yards and one touchdown. He averaged 14.8 yards per carry on first down (five carries, 74 yards), including a 38-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

Note: Oklahoma State and West Virginia did not play in Week 7.

Kansas spring wrap

May, 9, 2012
5/09/12
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2011 overall record: 2-10
2011 conference record: 0-9
Returning starters: Offense 7; defense 6; P/K (2)

Top returners:
RB James Sims, WR D.J. Beshears, S Bradley McDougald, OL Tanner Hawkinson, DE Toben Opurum, RB Tony Pierson

Key losses:
QB Jordan Webb, RB Darrian Miller, LB Steven Johnson, CB Isiah Barfield, DL Patrick Dorsey

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: James Sims* (727 yards)
Passing: Jordan Webb (1,883 yards)
Receiving: D.J. Beshears* (437 yards)
Tackles: Steven Johnson (119)
Sacks: Toben Opurum* (4)
Interceptions: Bradley McDougald*, Greg Brown* (2)

Spring answers

1. A culture change is underway: Kansas' players have been beaten down over the past two years. Faith that a corner would be turned under Turner Gill wasn't rewarded. Part of what new coach Charlie Weis has to pound into his team is a sense of confidence. He memorably got his team to practice celebrating a win during one of this spring's open practices, producing a video that went viral. Confidence has to be KU's first step back from five wins in two seasons.

2. Recognizable names looking for a new start: Weis isn't the only person looking for a fresh start in Lawrence. KU welcomed six Division I transfers this fall, including starting quarterback Dayne Crist. Jake Heaps is waiting his turn to take the quarterback spot in 2013, but Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay had his appeal to waive the redshirt year denied by the NCAA. He'll be back in 2013, but defensive coordinator Dave Campo brings a big resume to Weis' staff, too.

3. Underrated at receiver: Kansas' receivers were obviously not very productive, but Weis actually left the spring really impressed with the unit. That's a good sign for Crist, and that's even without McCay suiting up. Former quarterback Kale Pick should contribute alongside D.J. Beshears and Daymond Patterson, who sat out the last 11 games of 2011 with a groin injury. JaCorey Shepherd, 6-foot-4 junior Chris Omigie and junior Christian Matthews fill out the unit that had enough depth to move Marquis Jackson to running back.

Fall questions

1. Can Charlie Weis reward the KU administration's faith? Kansas is very different than Notre Dame. It's very different from the Kansas City Chiefs and Florida Gators, too. The prospect of building a team from the bottom up appealed to Weis, and KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger made a hire that was panned by most across the country. Weis will coach with a chip on his shoulder, and the man knows football. Can he prove his detractors wrong?

2. What will the defensive line look like? This unit was the biggest hole on Kansas' team last season, and handcuffed what Weis saw was an underrated secondary. Weis noted the Jayhawks needed some bigger "muchachos" up front, and noted that reinforcements were on the way. Players that were working with the first team during the spring may be sliding way down the depth chart in the fall. How will it play out? Well, that's what fall camp is for.

3. How will the running back spot shake out? James Sims has led Kansas in rushing for each of the past two seasons, but was suspended for the first three games of 2012 after an OWI arrest. That's bad news for Sims, who had a bunch of competition at KU's best position, even after Darrian Miller was dismissed from the team during the offseason. Jackson and Tony Pierson both made huge impacts in the spring game, and Sims could have serious trouble earning his spot back when he returns in the fall. Weis won't waste first-team reps on Sims during fall camp, and with a new staff, that's a lot of exposure for Pierson, Jackson and Brandon Bourbon.

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