Last year Tim Grunhard was getting his first taste of being a coach at the division one level. It helped he had three linemen with experience. Now that he has his feet on the ground and knows what to expect he has a set of different challenges.
When the starting offensive line takes the field against South Dakota there is a good chance they will have a combined eight career starts. Grunhard jokes there are a lot of things that can make him lose sleep. So far through fall camp he has liked teaching his unit.
"We have some new faces but these guys really work hard," he said. "It is a good group of guys and I really enjoy being around them. They put in a lot of effort and the class room and the field. They want to have success."
Gone are three mainstays on the line in Duane Zlatnik, Trevor Marrongelli, and Tanner Hawkinson. They provided a lot of experience in Grunhard's first year as the offensive line coach. Sometimes the experience isn't the only factor and Grunhard remembers that dating back to his playing days at Notre Dame.
"Obviously that's going to be an issue to replace the experience," Grunhard said. "But I equate it with my experience when I was playing at Notre Dame. My sophomore year we had a bunch of seniors and fifth-year guys that graduated. Then going into my junior year we had a bunch of new guys that really liked being around each other and worked hard. They were dedicated to each other. We went out and won a national title with that group."
Grunhard knows there will be mistakes. That is part of the learning curve with so many new faces on the offensive line. He said they have made that up with a great attention to detail and working hard.
Junior college transfers Ngalu Fusimalohi and Mike Smithburg are penciled in at the guard spot. The good news is both arrived on campus in January and went through spring football. Smithburg came from Iowa Western who won the national championship last season. Fusimalohi played at San Francisco City College and started for the national champs two seasons ago.
"The junior college guys come from programs that win and they expect to win here," Grunhard said. "That's really a good positive for our meeting room."
One of the things Grunhard likes is the competition that has been built up. He said going through the two deep everyone is competing. He credited Charlie Weis for putting together a good script for every practice that gives each player reps to improve.
Although the group overall lacks playing experience Grunhard believes the parts are there to build a strong line.
"You have Pat Lewandowski who is a nice athlete with some size," he said. "Then you have Zach Fondal who is a really nice athlete. Aslam Sterling has done a complete 180 from this time last year. We couldn't even keep him out there for three or four plays last year. He's dominating out there. The two junior college guards are nasty. They are tough. They expect to win.
"We also have quality back-ups there. There is competition on this line. That makes everybody better. That's the thing that is exciting to watch. When that second group goes in there isn't much drop off. Some of those guys have played before and been in the system."
Over the next three weeks Grunhard and Weis will evaluate different players and combinations. In the end they are trying to see what players will elevate or stay at the top of depth chart.
"We want to find the five best guys and put them on the field," Grunhard said. "That's what coach wants. We want the five guys that give us a chance to win."
Bloomfield, Gibson getting reps
There are only two, new offensive linemen from the high school ranks. Joey Bloomfield signed with the Jayhawks and Joe Gibson is a preferred walk on. Both of them have cracked the three-deep and getting a chance to show what they can do in practice.
"I like the young guys like Joe Gibson and Joey Bloomfield," Grunhard said. "I call them the two Joe's. They are working hard and fun to watch."
Bloomfield was projected as a tackle when he signed but is listed on the depth chart as a guard. However Grunhard said they like their offensive linemen to play multiple positions if they can. He said Bloomfield has put in reps at different positions and even a few at center.
Slater arrives in afternoon
Offensive lineman Pearce Slater arrived in Lawrence around 3:30 p.m. He left Los Angeles early and flew through Dallas before landing in Kansas City.
Slater will have to spend a couple days without pads before he can practice as part of the NCAA practice rule.
He is already slated in as the back-up right tackle. The Jayhawks were able to land Slater after a tough recruiting battle with Oklahoma that lasted until the final day.