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October 9, 2013Prior to practice on Tuesday, Jake Heaps had never taken a single snap from Gavin Howard. Now the two have three days of practice before they have to be game-ready.
Head coach Charlie Weis will debut a revamped offensive line on Saturday against TCU with Howard taking his first snaps at center this season. Joining him are left tackle Pat Lewandowski, left guard Ngalu Fusimalohi, right guard Mike Smithburg and right tackle Aslam Sterling.
It's no secret that the offensive line has struggled, and the center position has been one of the biggest question marks so far. Lewandowski and Dylan Admire have taken turns at the top of the depth chart, but this week, Howard gets his first shot.
"He's got a little bit of nastiness to him, which I think has encouraged coach Weis to make that change," Heaps said. "All three of those guys work extremely hard and for Gavin, it's his opportunity and his shot to take advantage of it and make the best of it and hopefully improve our offensive line and our offense as a whole."
Weis specifically pointed to center-quarterback exchanges as a weakness in the loss to Texas Tech even saying, "some of those, they looked like me out there snapping and I was never very good in case you're wondering."
With that in mind, it might seem odd to put a fresh face at center, but the Jayhawks are running out of options to improve the line.
"Really, we only have so many alternatives now. We're kind of running out of alternatives," Weis said. "We're at the point now that we're not going to start throwing names in a hat and pick out five and that's where we go. We've got to start settling down into what we're going to be. This week we'll get one more opportunity to see where we are."
Weis did note that while he's made an unprecedented number of depth chart changes this season, center is a significantly more difficult position to play than many people realize.
"Pat Lewandowski is an intelligent guy, Dylan Admire is an intelligent young man, Gavin Howard is an intelligent young man. These are all 4.0 students so intelligence is not the issue," Weis said. "The issue is as soon as you snap the ball you have a guy that is 300-plus pounds on the other side of you ready to hit you in the mouth."
Heaps said the biggest challenge he sees in the combination of duties that a center faces in addition to the pressure up front.
"Center is really a truly undervalued position and really gets the whole offensive line going. It sets up the tone upfront for being able to run inside, run outside, communication, all that kind of stuff," Heaps said. "The center and offensive line start in the trenches and the center is a very valuable piece to that. Gavin has done a good job. He had a good practice and I feel good about where we are right now."
Defensive lineman Keon Stowers said he's worked with Howard and believes he's ready for all the challenges at center.
"He doesn't stop when he hears the whistle," Stowers said. "He keeps going. You've got to be disciplined and he's smart enough to know you've got to be disciplined, but you have to have a mean side to you when you're playing offensive line.
"You look at an offensive line like TCU, you've got five guys like that. I feel like he is bringing some new spirit to the offensive line and I am excited to see what he can do."