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March 29, 2013The two most productive players so far this spring on the defensive line have been buck linebackers Chris Martin and Ben Goodman. If you remember Goodman played last year at strongside defensive end behind Josh Williams. Wyatt initially thought Goodman would move inside because of his size, but his athleticism surprised the coaches.
When asked about why Goodman has improved, the coaches rave about his energy and intensity. While that sounds like generic coach speak, he's gotten probably the most praise on "intangibles" so far this spring out of all the players.
Earlier this week Charlie Weis credited Josh Williams for playing a part in Goodman's development.
"One of the best things that Josh left with us was his work ethic; he was wonderful and Ben was his guy. Ben has carried that over. He goes full-speed on every play, just like Josh did. I think that has put him in a position, where he already had some God-given ability, but when you're going full-speed on every play (it helps you tremendously). I called Josh out in front of the team at the end of the year. I said `Ben Goodman's performance is because of you; Ben Goodmanis going to be a good player because of you.' I told him `when you leave here, even though you're leaving a team that went 1-11, Ben owes you a great debt, because that's why he's going to become a player around here.'"
Martin on the other hand is a more fluid and gifted athlete. To give you a reference point, Martin is a slightly different type of player than outgoing buck linebacker Toben Opurum. While Opurum was a solid player in his own right, Martin is bigger and longer so he can take on blocks a little more effectively.
Players two weeks ago hinted that there could be a package where Kansas gets both buck linebackers on the field at the same time. Defensive coordinator Dave Campo talked as a whole about changes to the defense.
"You have to adapt your system to the players sometimes and not the other way around." Campo said. "We feel like we can play to guys strengths more with the change we are doing."
New Linebacker Approach
We touched on this in our last notebook, but it bears repeating the change in approach in regards to how the linebackers will read their keys this year. It's a small change that could greatly affect the quality of play from that position.
Last year the linebackers would base their initial reaction after the snap off of the first steps of the running back, while this year they are going off the first steps of the offensive linemen. This will allow for the linebackers to get a faster jump on the play because there are less misdirection steps a lineman can take to fool a linebacker compared to a running back.
We'll let linebacker coach Clint Bowen explain the approach:
"You look at offenses these days and there are generally about five running plays. The five offensive linemen usually do about the same thing and then the rest of it is decorated with motions and formations and guys jumping all over the place. When you get your eyes on the guards and they run step or zone or whatever they do you limit it to about five reactions that you have to have. You get it down to a lot less reaction when you key the line."
One of the biggest surprises this spring is that Darius Willis has gotten his name back in the mix at linebacker.
Last spring he had completely fallen off the depth chart at linebacker and was running with the scout team during fall camp. He was moved to the defensive line and slowly worked his way back in the mix and competed with Michael Reynolds for the backup spot at buck linebacker.
Now he in a legitimate battle with Ben Heeney for the starting middle linebacker position. One of the reasons for Willis' improvement has to do with scheme KU's defensive system this year requires the front requires the middle linebackers to take on the offensive guards earlier on in the play. Willis, who weighs in at 6-2, 240 pounds has the size advantage over the 227-pound Heeney.
"To be able to handle a 310 pound guy in your lap you have to have a little punch to you," Bowen said. "We'll continue to work with that and figure out which guys can do what and who is best at it."
Here's some extra tidbits from this week's KU spring football presser with the assistant offensive coaches.
Offensive line coach Tim Grunhard
On the improved play of Aslam Sterling
I think he is comfortable. The one thing I am seeing from him this year than last year is he is smiling a lot more. He's laughing and comfortable. He showed up in a tough situation being overweight and expected to play. It was tough for him but with coach Holsopple and his eating habits he has done a nice job of getting himself in shape. He has shown us as a coaching staff that this really is important to him.
On Dylan Admire
Dylan is a smart guy. He's the quarterback of the offensive line when he is in there. He is making a lot of the calls that need to be called. You have two new guys next to him so they are swimming a little bit with a lot of new information for a lot of plays. Dylan has done a nice job of being the traffic cop for those guys.
On throwing more info at players this spring compared to last year
I think way we install there is a nice pattern to it. A lot of the things carry over so for the offensive line if there is a play that goes in a couple of days ago there are aspects of that which carry over to the next day. Coach Weis offense helps us implement a lot of volume of plays without changing a lot.
On Riley Spencer returning from injury
He's just got to knock off some rust and get some confidence. He'll do fine and he's trying hard. He's a competitor but a fifth year starter so he expects himself to step in there. We are just continuing to work with him.
Grunhard on recruiting junior college offensive lineman Mike Smithburg
We saw the same thing with him and Ngalu. They are tough guys and finish well. They bring some nastiness to the football field. We are seeing some of that here. They don't know what they are doing half the time and are hesitating and don't have all the confidence yet in what they are doing but when they do get on guys they are pretty tenacious.
Tight Ends coach Jeff Blasko
Blasko on Jimmay Mundine's improvement from last year
I would say his stamina has improved the most. He is in a lot better shape than he has been in the past. His understanding of the offensive system was pretty good all of last season but now we can count on him to do the right thing on a consistent basis. My goal for him is to just be consistent. We have gotten six pretty good practices from him.
On Jordan Smith's improvement
Like Coach Weis said he has put on 30 pounds since he has been here. He looks like a totally different human being. He plays with good pad level and he is tough and physical. Him and Chuck are battling right now and it's a fight.
On being able to throw more info at players this year
One they have a grasp of what we are doing from a terminology standpoint on what this offense really is and it's really just learning the language. Once they learn the language it gives the coaches more versatility to put the plan together and for them to understand it easier.