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April 12, 2013

Spring Game Preview

Here is what to watch for at tomorrow's spring game for each position:

Quarterback: This will be fans first chance since last spring to see quarterback Jake Heaps in action. It's not hyperbolic to say Heaps has one of the strongest and most accurate arms that KU has had from the quarterback position in years. Heaps ability will allow Weis to include more drop back passes into his system and help open up the offense. Michael Cummings will also get plenty of action tomorrow and expect more of a run-based and play action style offense when he is in to better fit his strengths. The red jerseys will be worn by the quarterbacks which means they can't be hit if they are in the pocket, but if they scramble outside the pocket they are fair game.

Running back: This is the most known commodity and the strength of the team. One of the biggest areas you might see improvement out this group is their ability in pass protection after having a year in Weis' system. While Sims will likely be the rushing leader this year, keep an eye on running back Taylor Cox who players have said has quietly made big gains during the offseason.

WR/TE: Wide receivers Justin McCay and Christian Matthews have risen to the top of the depth chart at this position. Tight end Jimmay Mundine has been the best player to emerge from the tight ends. The most exciting thing to watch in Saturday's game will be how Weis uses Tony Pierson in the passing game. While Pierson is technically a running back, Weis has been splitting him out wide as a receiving threat and the results so far have been positive as Pierson has been the most explosive player on the team this spring.

Offensive line: While Kansas likely won't have a player with departing senior Tanner Hawkinson's skill level, they might be better as a collective unit. Aslam Sterling struggled last year as a juco transfer but he should have the right side of the line locked down after losing significant weight during the offseason. Center Mike Smithburg and guard Ngalu Fusimalohi will likely make Kansas more physical inside, but being newcomers they are still learning the offense and all the calls so their performance in the spring game might not be a true indicator of how they will project to the fall. Pat Lewandowski is currently running with the first team but Riley Spencer who was out all of last season with an injury has made the biggest improvement on the line since spring practices began a month ago and could challenge for a spot.

Defensive line: Weis said at Tuesday's press conference that nose tackle Keon Stowers and buck linebacker/rush end Chris Martin have been the top performers among the linemen this spring. Martin verses right tackle Aslam Sterling might be the most interesting one-on-one matchup to watch between the offensive and defensive lines. Stowers speed has given him an advantage at nose tackle and he has been winning the majority of battles against the offensive line this spring. Second string strong buck linebacker Ben Goodman also has made his mark in the last month. Even though he is listed as a backup on the depth chart he could see the field plenty next year if Weis decides to use a package that contains two buck linebackers when they want to bring pressure. Saturday will mark the first time Kansas fans will see Goodman at his new position after spending last year at strongside defensive end.

Linebackers: Weis said this week that middle linebacker Ben Heeney has made the most progress among the linebackers in the last month. At second string, Darius Willis gives KU a bigger body to put in at that position and he is much more physical than when he previous manned that position in 2011. Fans should keep an eye on freshman Courtney Arnick who might be the best athlete among the linebackers.

Secondary: This group you see out there on Saturday might not be the same guys you see on the field this fall. Cornerback Cassius Sendish has been the most consistent, but as a whole this is the most inexperienced group on the team. The junior college players that arrive this summer will shake up this position. On Saturday it will be interesting to see the different combinations of players defensive coordinator Dave Campo uses at safety.

Special Teams: Kansas had arguably the worst field goal kicking unit in the country last year. Jr Trevor Pardula at the very least will bring that unit back to respectability. Side note: For safety reasons there will be no kickoffs at the spring game.


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