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July 19, 2011At Jayhawk Slant we picked our seven players that could have the biggest impact on this season from a list of names that have rarely or never played. Below are names not known to many Kansas fans but will see the field this year.
Alex Mueller: Kansas special teams coach Aaron Stamn recently told us that he expects a good battle at kicker between Alex Mueller and Ron Doherty. He said Doherty had a solid spring and he expects him to compete. The Jayhawks didn't use a scholarship unless they felt Mueller was a key to the future.
Mueller camped at Kansas last summer and Stamn got a chance to watch him kick off a tee and see his talents. During interviews Muller told us all along he wanted to be at Kansas before he was offered. He committed to Kansas the day he got the phone call from Turner Gill and Stamn.
The Jayhawks need to find a kicker and we find it hard to believe it won't be Mueller against McNeese State.
Kevin Young: The interior part of the defensive line was a letdown last season. They didn't manage much of a push and weren't disruptive. Young could change the mix on the defensive line. He arrived at Kansas in the 230 pound range and is expected to play in the 270's. If he can add some size and adjust to going up against guards he could be a big boost for the inside.
He has good athletic ability and was recruited to play strong-side defensive end. Young could give Kansas a presence inside with his quickness and match-up problems for the opposition. He is still learning the position and was having a very good spring until an injury forced him to miss the remainder.
If Young continues to progress like he was before he got hurt he will make life a lot easier for Buddy Wyatt, the defensive line coach.
Pat Lewandowski: For a brief part of the spring Lewandowski moved inside on the defensive line to provide depth. It got so thin they needed bodies just to get through the final practices. Wyatt told us he liked what he saw in Lewandowski when he moved inside.
Much like Young, it will depend on how Lewandowski progresses with his size and strength. He is approaching that magic number where he may outgrow the defensive end spot. But he has yet to add the strength to make the move inside permanently. Either way Lewandowski will see the field as a redshirt freshman.
The Jayhawks didn't land a defensive tackle in last year's class so Lewandowski could technically be one of the biggest recruits for this season.
Nick Sizemore: Expect the offense to feature more a fullback and that will be the transfer from Buffalo. Sizemore has drawn strong reviews from his spring performance and his summer workouts. Gill and the staff knew what they were getting in Sizemore. He played in every game as a true freshman at Buffalo.
He's a physical player and will also see time on special teams. We expect to see a lot of fullback formations especially in short yardage situations featuring Sizemore.
JaCorey Shepherd: Last summer Shepherd surprised people when he de-committed from Iowa and picked Kansas. When Darrell Wyatt left to coach Texas several schools made a run at Shepherd. He's a unique receiver that combines the ability to run away from defenders and can still play in the slot.
While Marquis Jackson got the headlines Shepherd is the more polished receiver. There are still position battles going at receiver and outside of Daymond Patterson there are a lot of young, unproven players. There has been little talk about Shepherd and we expect him to lose his redshirt early on.
Darius Willis: Like Sizemore, the Kansas coaches knew what they were getting in the versatile Willis. He was the only true freshman to start at Buffalo in Gill's last season there. An injury forced him out after three games. He was considered Gill's best recruit at Buffalo after an all-state high school career in Houston.
There are two things that make Willis a very important player at Kansas. First is his leadership ability. In an off-season poll he was voted one of the top leaders by his teammates. The other is he can play inside or outside linebacker.
He has the speed to go outside in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme. He plays with a physical style and instincts where he will also see time inside. He has a first quick step and will likely be used in pass rush situations coming off the edge.
The other running back: (Okay we cheated and went with a group not a player). In a recent interview with Jayhawk Slant Reggie Mitchell said he likes his group of running backs on paper. But when you've coached the type of backs Mitchell has in his career you want to see them prove it first.
There is really one proven back and that is James Sims. He showed as a true freshman he can make plays at the Big 12 level. From there it is all speculation based on potential. This might be the most competitive position on the roster. Sims is likely to be near the top of the depth chart but they need more than one back.
The race for the top two is going to be intense. Brandon Bourbon was playing well before an injury forced him out all of last season. Darrian Miller, who holds the large class Missouri rushing record, had a great spring. Anthony Pierson has turned heads since he arrived on campus the first week of June.
Somebody is going to come out ahead in the battle to get carries along with Sims. There is enough quality at running back depth we won't even put odds on who wins that battle.