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March 27, 2010

KU turns to Gill to get back on track

In taking Buffalo from one-win program to MAC champion in three years, coach Turner Gill stepped into national prominence.

At Kansas, some might say he has stepped into something else. And it's not nearly as flattering.

Gill is taking over a program that just lost a record-setting quarterback, two 1,000-yard receivers and the best player from an under-performing defensive unit. Gill is replacing Mark Mangino, one of the most successful coaches in school history. Mangino led the Jayhawks to back-to-back bowl games in '07 and '08, the only time that has been accomplished at Kansas.

Kansas does return an experienced offensive line, its leading rusher (Toben Opurum), a couple of solid receivers and some young defensive players. Besides, Kansas managed five wins last season. Buffalo had managed a combined five wins in the four seasons before Gill's arrival.

Gill has more to work with in Lawrence. But perhaps he should watch his step, anyway.

Here's a look at the Jayhawks as they prepare for spring drills.

KANSAS AT-A-GLANCE
Johnathan Wilson will try to help fill
a big hole at receiver for Kansas.
THE BASICS
Coach: Turner Gill
Last season: 5-7 overall, 1-7 in the Big 12 North.
Spring dates: March 27-April 24.
RETURNING STARTERS
(minimum of six starts)
Offense (7): G Sal Capra, C Jeremiah Hatch, T Tanner Hawkinson, WR Bradley McDougald, T Jeff Spikes, G Brad Thorson, WR Johnathan Wilson.
Defense (8): LB Drew Dudley, CB Chris Harris, E Jake Laptad, CB Daymond Patterson, FS Lubbock Smith, LB Huldon Tharp, E Jeff Wheeler, T John Williams.
Special teams (2): K Jacob Branstetter, P Alonso Rojas.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

The entire line returns intact from an offense that averaged 422.4 yards per game and ranked 25th in the nation. Hawkinson has all-conference potential. But there are concerns there, too. The Jayhawks allowed 33 sacks last season.

HELP IS NEEDED

The defense is especially needy. The Jayhawks gave up 245 passing yards per game last season and lost their best defensive back - SS Darrell Stuckey. Laptad, their best pass rusher, may miss all of spring drills because of injury. Some young players need to establish themselves as starters at linebacker and in the secondary this spring. A quarterback and a go-to receiver need to emerge.

THREE GUYS TO WATCH

TE Tim Biere: Though he's often been overlooked, Biere is one of the Jayhawks' top young offensive players. He had just 14 catches last season, but his role may increase substantially in new coordinator Chuck Long's system.

WR Bradley McDougald: He made a solid contribution as a freshman. He made 33 catches, which is the second-highest total among returning players. McDougald is so talented and versatile he could end up on defense or could play both ways.

FS Lubbock Smith: As a redshirt freshman last season, he broke into the starting lineup in the second half of the season. Overall, Smith posted 42 tackles and broke up a pass. He'll get a bigger workload if he demonstrates he can handle it.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

DT Jamal Greene: In three years, Greene has 34 tackles and two sacks. He has to show he can make plays. Coaches usually don't have patience for unproductive players, especially those recruited by someone else.

THE BUZZ

Despite all the problems with the defense, most spring interest will be focused on a rebuilding offense. KU ranked in the top 25 in total offense in each of the past three seasons. But that was with QB Todd Reesing passing to WRs Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe. All are gone now. The Jayhawks still will run the spread offense under Gill. But he faces a tough chore in finding players who can make it run as well as Reesing and Co. Junior college transfer Quinn Mecham, sophomore Kale Pick (last season's backup) and redshirt freshman Jordan Webb are the leading contenders for the QB job.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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