Thursday, May 2, 2013
Can Kansas' jucos change the program?
By David Ubben
The Kansas Jayhawks' narrow losses to Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State showed they made some progress in 2012. But the Jayhawks suffered a 49-point drubbing to West Virginia and the Big 12's co-champions -- Kansas State and Oklahoma -- both beat KU by at least 40 points.
Iowa State and Baylor handed the Jayhawks a pair of losses by four touchdowns, too. There was progress throughout the parade of lowlights in the midst of a 21-game losing streak in Big 12 play, and additions following Charlie Weis' first season in charge should help Kansas finally end the infamous slide.
Charlie Weis has brought in nearly 20 junior-college transfers in hopes of invigorating his program.
"I think we’re going to be much more representative of a Big 12 football team," defensive coordinator Dave Campo said of the Jayhawks' 2013 team. "I didn’t feel like that was the case a year ago. I felt that we were playing with a bad hand, and I think the addition of the junior college players give us at least a chance to be more competitive."
Kansas is adding almost 20 junior college players -- most often used as quick fixes for smaller deficiencies -- to a program that needs to compensate for a talent gap that's hounded the Jayhawks since Turner Gill took over for Mark Mangino following the 2009 season.
"We weren’t talented enough as a football team to really compete," Campo said. "I feel good with the guys we’ve got, and with the addition of the quarterback, I think that’s a tremendous addition."
"The quarterback" is BYU transfer Jake Heaps, but the Jayhawks signed five of the nation's top 100 junior college prospects, including former Jayhawk Dexter McDonald, who left the team before the 2012 season and returned this spring. Cornerback Cassius Sendish stood out this spring, too, and fellow newcomer Ty McKinney, a defensive tackle, made an early impact for the defense.
"One of the advantages we had this year, in my opinion, is with Charlie’s background and my background in the NFL, we were able to sign some guys that we might not have been involved in without NFL experience," Campo said. "Those guys are looking at the next level, and that gave us a chance to bring in some guys that we feel like were a little bit farther along and we could get them on the field."
That's a big advantage, but it comes with its own set of challenges, which Weis and Campo began tackling in the spring and will have to continue overcoming in the fall.
"They have had a number of different coaches in their career and you have to get them acclimated to what you’re doing, but in all honesty, we’re so young in our system right now, that it’s a little easier for guys to jump in and get going because we’re not complicated at this point," Campo said. "Our whole thrust is to get the guys on the field, get them playing, don’t give them too much, and if we have to play with two or three defenses rather than 20 defenses or coverages or whatever, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to give our guys a chance, athletically, to compete."
Moreso than last year, Campo says, he's excited to take his new defense on the field. The Jayhawks need Heaps to provide the biggest impact at quarterback, but a fresh-looking depth chart and a big boost in athleticism could help the Jayhawks finally get over the hump and turn those close losses into wins.
The risks of fixing the program with an army of junior college transfers is obvious and has been well-chronicled, but that's the road Kansas has taken. This fall, we'll finally see if it works.
"I thought we made some progress last year, some progress in the attitude of the football team and the way our guys went about their business, but we weren’t talented enough as a football team to really compete," Campo said. "I feel good about the guys that we got."