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Kansas Jayhawks Football Spring Preview


Jalon Daniels, QB of the Kansas Jayhawks
© Evert Nelson/The Cap/USA TODAY SPORTS

The Kansas Jayhawks are coming off their best season since 2007, and with expectations now greater than ever, the Jayhawks need to work out the kinks in the Spring so that they are fully prepared to compete for the Big 12 title this season. Let's look at some key points of emphasis for the Jayhawks going into the 2024 season.



 

Kansas Jayhawks: The Offense

The Kansas offense was one of the most dynamic and successful units in college football last year, placing 21st in FBS for total offense with 446.1 yards/game and 8th in rushing offense with 206 yards/game for 2023. Can they continue that success though with the departure of Andy Kotelnicki to Penn State and new co-offensive coordinators Jim Zebrowski and Jeff Grimes? Can they also mitigate the injuries to receiver Lawrence Arnold and tackle Calvin Clements to have them ready for the fall? Success for this unit could depend on these three factors.




The Backup Quarterback Situation

The hope is that star quarterback Jalon Daniels stays healthy this year because if so, big things are heading both Daniels's and the Jayhawks' way. You can read more about his great expectations here at College Football Dawgs. However, should Daniels succumb to the injury bug once again, who will be taking his place? Jason Bean did a masterful job at filling in for Daniels, but he is gone now, so who does that leave? The leading candidate for the seat behind Daniels is sophomore Cole Ballard. Ballard took over for Jason Bean when he went down with an injury against Texas Tech last year and also played a pretty good game in the Sunflower Showdown, almost beating the rival Kansas State Wildcats. Ballard has had his praises sung by the coaching staff, head coach Lance Leipold says Ballard has had an "outstanding offseason" and "is working harder than ever" per Shreyas Laddha of the Kansas City Star. Ballard brings a lot of guts and tenacity to the QB room, but he isn't the only one vying for the backup spot. The guy that is supposedly next in line to Jalon Daniels, freshman Isaiah Marshall, will also be looking at competing for that 2nd string spot. The former MaxPreps Michigan High School Football Player of the Year is a dual-threat QB with skills similar to that of Daniels and he has been compared heavily to the incumbent starter, so could that make a difference? It is potentially the offense's most fierce off-season position battle.



What the Grimes/Zebrowski Offense Will Look Like...

With the departure of Andy Kotelnicki to Penn State in November, QB coach and co-offensive coordinator Jim Zebrowski took the bull by the horns and allowed this Kansas offense to continue seamlessly through the rest of the year. Zebrowski's offense looked explosive and pass-heavy during Kansas's bowl win over UNLV in December, and we can potentially expect more of that this Fall. Luke Grimm, Lawrence Arnold, and Quentin Skinner all return for the Jayhawks this year, so we could see more emphasis on the passing attack. However, Kansas also brought in Jeff Grimes, former Baylor OC and marquee assistant coach who focuses on a very physical, hard-nosed style of play. He could utilize the stellar running back tandem of Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw more than Kotelnicki did, which could prove to be even more fruitful than last year if used right. With those two philosophies in the same room though, will it bring a healthy balance, or will one coach take the lion's share of offensive play-calling duties? The hope for Kansas is that it is the former, as they have weapons in both the passing and running game that they can use at their disposal. The loss of key offensive analyst Matt Lubick to Nevada also brings further challenges but given the experience and prowess of both Grimes and Zebrowski, the sky is the limit for what this offense can achieve. We may very well see an offense that is even better than the Kansas offense we saw last year given the experienced players combined with balanced, intriguing play calling. The trickeration and versatility were not lost with Kotelnicki's departure, mind you...


Luke Grimm, Quentin Skinner, and Lawrence Arnold
© Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SPORTS

Questions at Offensive Line

The versatile and dependable Dominick Puni is gone, as is stalwart center Mike Novitsky and one of the better offensive line coaches of the past couple of years in Scott Fuchs, so Kansas has holes to fill in their offensive line room. The first hole filled was at O-line coach, where Kansas introduced Daryl Agpalsa, longtime Lance Leipold confidant and veteran assistant at the collegiate level. Kansas also still has a ton of depth left over from last year as well as key transfers being brought in to shore up the holes left behind by Puni and Novitsky. The thought as of now is that Division II Tiffin transfer and Rimington Award winner Shane Bumgardner will get the nod at center. He showed excellent play throughout his time in Division II and at 6-foot-3 290 pounds he should not have too much of a problem translating to the FBS level. Other locks for starting positions include Michael Ford, Jr., Bryce Cabeldue, and either Logan Brown or Calvin Clements, who are in a heated battle for the starting left tackle position. Clements did injure himself and will be out for the spring, however, is expected back. We may see a bit of a shuffle but expect to see another strong offensive line for the Jayhawks with the amount of depth and experience they have still.




 


Kansas Jayhawks: The Defense

The defense has been known as the weaker link of this Kansas team for quite some time now, which honestly, is not abnormal for most Big 12 teams. It is not a defensive league and this Kansas defense has made strides from 2022 to 2023 and beyond. A defense that ranked close to last in essentially every category except pass defense made its way to the middle of the pack in 2023 and they look to continue the climb upward. Here are a few key factors in helping accomplish that.


Finding the Next Great Jayhawk Pass Rusher

Even before the days of Leipold, Kansas had a solid EDGE rush presence. That only continued though with Leipold's arrival. Guys like Lonnie Phelps, Jr., Gage Keys, and Austin Booker made the edge rush a strong position for Kansas. With Keys, Booker, and a few other key pass rushers from last year either gone to the NFL Draft or transferred, the Jayhawks must look to find another guy who can fill the role of marquee pass rusher. A few guys that stick out among the crowd are Jereme Robinson, Dean Miller, Dylan Wudke and Dylan Brooks. But Kansas also brought on some key freshmen that will bolster the pass rush into potentially something great. Four-star EDGE rushers from Arizona's Desert Edge High School, Dak Brinkley and Deshawn Warner, will both contribute immediately to the Kansas pass rush. Warner impressed in the Under Armor All-American game and has been a favorite among coaches and fans alike. You can read more on the incoming freshmen class for Kansas here. Kansas has depth at the EDGE position, but who will stick out among the rest to become the next looming presence wearing crimson and blue?


Jereme Robinson pursues UNLV QB
© Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SPORTS

Linebacking Corps Taking Shape

Craig Young and Rich Miller held it down at the linebacker position last year, bringing a much-needed improvement to that position for the Jayhawks. However, both of them have moved on, which leaves the Jayhawks in a tight spot in rebuilding the linebacker room. We saw many flashes from the guys who are still with the program; JB Brown made some key plays, Taiwan Berryhill is a quick, coverage-savvy guy who can come up and thump opposing players and Jayson Gillion showed a ton of potential as a freshman last year even with an injury-riddled season. Other names to know are Cornell Wheeler, Logan Brantley, and Dylan Downing, who also show starter potential. This is the position that may take the most work this spring, but there's a lot of young talent that can develop under the leadership of linebackers coach Chris Simpson. Will it still be a weaker part of this Kansas defense? Perhaps, but it could also blossom into a force depending on health and development with the ceiling a lot of these guys have. There is a ton of depth and a ton of potential, which has favored the Jayhawks in the past at other positions.



Cobee Bryant and Mello Dotson: The Best Corner Duo in the Nation?

The biggest strength for Kansas football defensively has almost always been their defensive backs. Names like Aqib Talib, Kwamie Lassiter, Chris Harris, and others are still revered in not only Kansas history but college football history as well. Cobee Bryant and Mello Dotson both can add their names to that list. Bryant has won All-Big 12 honors twice now and intends on making that All-American list as well as building his draft stock by returning for his senior year. Dotson is also returning for his senior season, citing "revenge" as his main reason for return. Dotson is known for being an absolute ball hawk, snagging 4 interceptions last season and running two back for touchdowns in back-to-back games. Matt Tait of R1S1Sports.com has a piece on what "revenge" might mean for Dotson that is well worth a read. Bryant and Dotson were perhaps the top Big 12 corner duo last year, but many doubted the tandem for essentially just being a part of a Kansas defense that was suspectable to the big play far too often. Dotson and Bryant showed that they could do it all last year though, come up and make a hit on a ball carrier, lock down some of the Big 12's best receivers, be a ball hawk that sniffs out interceptions, and overall just be a bully and menace to anyone who stands across from them. They have an even greater chance to prove their worth this upcoming year, where they find themselves in discussions as being one of the best corner tandems in the nation. If they can play better in 2024 than they did in 2023 they should earn that title of best corner duo in the nation. We could see the rebirth of the '07 Harris/Talib duo, or even something greater than that...




 


Conclusion

It is still early, but all signs point to the Jayhawks as being one of the bigger contenders for the Big 12 title this upcoming season. The job that Lance Leipold has done for this program has been nothing short of incredible, but he is by no means satisfied nor are his players and fellow coaches. With great expectations and a roster chalked full of well-seasoned veterans, the time is right for the Jayhawks to clinch their first Big 12 football title as well as their first College Football Playoff spot ever. Provided all stay healthy and these key factors develop and flourish by the time Fall rolls around, we could see a Jayhawk football season that tops the one from last year and even one that tops the historic 2007 season...time will tell.


For now, if you want to catch a glimpse at what the Jayhawks will be working on, Kansas will be holding its Spring Showcase at Rock Chalk Park on April 13th at 7 pm CST. Fans will be treated to a first look at the 2024 Kansas Jayhawks and it is sure to be a packed house with the anticipation that has built around this squad for the upcoming season. As always, you can catch the latest Kansas Jayhawks and other college football program news here at College Football Dawgs!










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