Before we get started today I want to direct you to a few links of interest. The first is courtesy of Rivals.com as they rank each Big XII team by position. Below is a quick rundown of where Kansas fell in…
Special Teams: #6
Secondly, I want to direct you to Barking Carnival for the KSU State of the Union. Though the site is often great, the SOTU posts take the cake, and this one is no different.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the Kansas receiving corps. As noted above, Rivals has them ranked #5 in the league behind Methzou, OU, Tech and OSU. Considering they lost Marcus Henry and Derek Fine, I have no qualms with this placement. With that said though, I think they can be every bit as good, if not better, than they were last year.
I've already chronicled my hope for Dezmon Briscoe this year so in the interest of avoiding redundancy I'll keep it short. But like I said then (and per the poll in the upper right hand corner) he just may be the break out star in 2008. What I really want to see from him is more consistency. His seven TDs were great last year (though I'll expect a few more this time around), but of those seven, 3 came in the throttling of Nebraska. Furthermore, he went without a score in seven, not even catching a pass in two (SE La., CU).
If Dezmon is to replace Marcus Henry's scoring production, Dexton Fields needs to replace some of his yardage. Despite catching more balls than Henry last year (63 to 54) Fields finished with 150 less yards. However, he did turn it on late, averaging 9 catches for 109 yards and a TD in the final three games (ISU, MU, VT). And to be candid, it would behoove Dexton to get into the endzone a little more consistently as well, considering he also did not score in seven games. Part of that, though, is his height. It's not that he's a real short guy (6'), but in the red zone guys like Henry, Briscoe and even Meier are easier targets for Todd. With that said, I'll be expecting a couple more scores out of Dex this year.
If those guys are 1 & 2, after that it's pretty much a free for all for 3, 4 and so on. Kerry Meier is the by far the leader when you look at last year's production. And while I fully expect him to contribute to an even greater extent this year; I think Jonathon Wilson is going to give him a run. It's tough to project what Meier will do as we don't know exactly how he'll be used. And since we really haven’t seen much of Wilson yet (3 for 52) we don't know exactly how he'll do on a game by game basis, but I'm under the impression he has the best hands on the team (and he's not lacking in size at 6'3" 187). With that said, between these two I'm expecting somewhere in the neighborhood of a combined 50 catches for 600ish yards and a handful of scores. I think that's pretty realistic, but also enough to make any Jayhawk fan very happy.
Behind them you've got Marcus Herford and Rod Harris, Jr. I won't be expecting much of Herford in this capacity, though I'm hopeful he can continue to return kicks as he did a year ago. As for Harris, I've seen his JUCO highlight tape and the guy definitely has the skills. His numbers, however, weren't all that impressive so I'm wondering if consistency, motivation, etc. is an issue for him. Because of that I'm not holding out high hopes for him to contribute on a game by game basis, but he clearly has all the tools to be a big play guy, so I wouldn't mind seeing a few of those from him.
Lastly, I want to touch on the tight end position from a pass catching perspective. We'll get into this more as it pertains to the O-Line, but Derek Fine is going to prove to be a much bigger loss than anyone is giving credence. Though he's not nearly as massive as some of the other TEs in the league, Fine was pretty much a sixth offensive lineman that could also catch 46 passes. I'm not thinking we're going to see 46 catches out of the TE position this year, but I do think that a lot of his production here can be replaced.
From what I'm hearing, AJ Steward is coming along nicely and is going to contribute right away. Given that he's 6-4 230 and is a converted QB this isn't very surprising. Seeing is believing, though, and I've yet to see much. My thought here is that they may even copy Methzou a bit by lining up 4 wide with Fields, Briscoe, Meier and Wilson and go for that Rucker/Coffman approach by saying to the defense, you can either choose to defend us with size or speed, but one way or the other, we're going to beat you. Throw Crawford/Sharp in the backfield and that becomes one spread out field that is nearly impossible to defend.
There are two other guys I've yet to touch on that I expect to here from this year. The first is the other TE, Bradley Dedeaux. In limited action last year we didn't find out much about his pass catching (1-11), but he did seem to be a solid blocker and since Steward is a former QB, I'll give Dedeaux the nod here for now. Secondly, there is true freshman Daymond Patterson. He's 5-9 175 and he can fly. For one thing, I expect him to bolster the punt return team from a year ago (not a difficult task), but I also wouldn't be surprised to see them try and get him the ball in space on offense as well. We all know how much the Big Man likes those bubble screens. And to be honest, if they're not used every other play they're pretty effective, especially with a quick little shit like Patterson out there catching them.
As I'm sure you've surmised, this should be a strength of the team this year. Yes, they lost Henry and Fine, two guys that won't be easy to replace. But let's not forget that as recently as 2006 Marcus Henry had only 25 catches for 316 yards and 3 scores. In that same year Fine had 28 for 355. So in one year Henry more than doubled his production (+29 catches, +698 yards, +7 TDs) and Fine certainly increased his as well, so quite a bit of this success can also be attributed to the quarterback and the system.