Closer look at the Rhode Island Rams
The Jayhawks open their season with Rhode Island. To get a closer look at the Rams we caught up with Bill Koch the beat writer for the Providence Journal.
What have you learned about the team so far during fall camp? Have there been any surprises, line-up changes, new players emerging, etc?
-- They had the No. 1 recruiting class in the CAA, and those guys are getting on the field quick. Freshman Aaron Parker (WR) and JUCO transfer Harold Buckner (WR) both flashed during the first scrimmage. I don't think they're married to too many starters at any specific positions. The best performers will see the bulk of the time.
What do you expect from the Rhode Island offense? Who are the top returners and the key losses on offense?
-- Quarterback battle is ongoing, with redshirt freshman Jordan Vazzano and sophomore Wes McKoy the favorites ahead of senior Paul Mroz. Vazzano is more of a classic pocket passer while McKoy is a dual threat. This has been a sore spot for them in recent years and likely has gone a long way toward creating their struggles on offense.
They have a dynamic running back in Harold Cooper, who is probably their best player on either side of the ball -- undersized but fast and tough, and he also can return kicks. Receiver depth looks decent with Parker, Buckner, Khayri Denny and Marven Beauvais. They also have a former freshman All-American at tight end in Charlie McKeeman, who makes for a good red zone option. Offensive line is a question mark -- at least two new starters this year and only five returning players with experience.
What are your thoughts on the defense based on the returning players?
-- Defensive line is experienced (118 games played, 34 starts). Mike Ezirike, Jose Duncan the names to watch there. Adam Parker is an all-CAA caliber player leading the linebackers -- he's their best individual defender. Defensive backs are a little green, particularly at safety. Nas Jones was a bit of a recruiting coup for them and played a ton as a freshman, but from there you've got a converted receiver in D.J. Stewart and a redshirt sophomore in Shawn Antoine who missed all of 2015 with an injury.
What is the mood of the program after two weeks of fall camp?
-- The opening scrimmage of camp was a spirited one. The group always seems to be in a pretty good mood, and that comes from the coaches. Jim Fleming is a pretty demanding, no-nonsense type guy. His staff is fairly young and drives hard. Culturally, they're in a decent place. The results haven't shown it yet.
What are the keys for the Rams to have a successful season?
-- Keys for the season all start under center. In my mind, they need to settle on a starter and go with him. They're not going to be a .500 team or better in 2016, but they could start to build something for 2017 and beyond with all these young players. They need to keep Cooper healthy -- he's their best offensive threat starting the season. Defense will need to force turnovers, because they'll probably be on the field quite a bit while the offense sorts itself out.