LAWRENCE — After two days of KU football practice, here are three early thoughts from the first fall camp under KU coach Charlie Weis.
1. The offensive line looks the part. Maybe it’s because the offensive line warms up just a few feet from where the media are allowed to stand during the first few minutes of practice, but first-year offensive line coach Tim Grunhard has inherited an intriguing group. We’ll start with the size. Every starter should likely crack the 300-pound mark, no small feat for a program such as Kansas. Senior left tackle Tanner Hawkinson is listed at 6 feet 5, 300 pounds; senior left guard Duane Zlatnik says he’s sitting at 305 — a solid 305 — and senior center Trevor Marrongelli is listed at 303. That doesn’t include juco transfer Aslam Sterling, whose all-around girth has become a small sideplot during the first couple days of practice.
KU coach Charlie Weis has a name for linemen this size — “A big muchacho” — and Sterling appears to be safely in the “big muchaco” club. Sterling, of course, will have to win a job. And he’ll face competition on the right side of the line from juniors Gavin Howard (6-4, 300) and Riley Spencer (6-6, 305).
But Sterling does appear to move pretty well for someone his size. He’s coordinated and his feet work pretty well — although it will likely take him some time to catch up in the conditioning category. And this is where the incumbents have an advantage.
“I applaud them for how hard they worked this summer,” Grunhard said. “And they’re very, very excited about the chance to go out and compete against some of the teams that, quite frankly, have given them a hard time over the years.”
2. A look at the backfield. Charlie Weis is the coach. And Dayne Crist is the quarterback. And this seems to suggest that KU will be airing the ball out plenty this year. But with the questions surrounding KU’s defense — can it stop anyone? — it will be interesting to see how much Kansas leans on its running game.
Grunhard said Friday that he believes KU will be able to run the football. And from a pure athleticism standpoint, the Jayhawks certainly have a deep stable of running backs. Even in drills, sophomore Tony Pierson can display a burst of speed that is certainly rare. Sophomore Brandon Bourbon looks healthy and powerful at 6-1, 218 pounds. And juco transfer Taylor Cox (5-11, 210) has the body of a more traditional halfback. That doesn’t even include junior James Sims, who will miss the first three games because of a suspension. Last time we saw Sims outside of practice, he was racking up yards in the spring game behind a patchwork second-string offensive line.
3. KU has also upgraded in the DJ department. First thing you notice about KU football practice under Weis is the blaring music during pre-practice stretching and plyometrics. The playlist has generally flip-flopped between some Lil Wayne or Rick Ross (we think) and then some Bon Jovi — reportedly a favorite of Weis. (Coach and singer go way back, in fact.) Hey, it’s pre-practice music. And KU still went 2-10 last year. But Weis, by all indications, is trying to install a faster pace at practice this year. And during the first couple minutes — the part the media can view — the Weezy appears to be working.