Spring Primer: Big 12 Part 1

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What issues surround Oklahoma, OSU, Kansas, K-State and Missouri this offseason?

What issues surround Oklahoma, OSU, Kansas, K-State and Missouri this offseason?

-by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Kansas Jayhawks

2010 Record: 3-9, 1-7 Big 12
Spring practice: April 1-April 30
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 7 
 
Spring storylines facing the Jayhawks:
 
1. Three players started at quarterback for Kansas last season, and the position remains wide-open heading into spring practice. Jordan Webb started seven games and led the team with 1,195 yards and seven touchdown tosses. Quinn Mecham made four starts, including the 52-45 comeback win over Colorado. Incoming freshman Brock Berglund is likely the future starter, but he pushed back his enrollment, delaying his arrival until the summer. The Jayhawks finished last in the Big 12 in scoring offense last season, and settling the quarterback position will go a long way towards improving the offense in 2011.
 
2. Running back James Sims was one of the few bright spots on offense last year, rushing for 742 yards and nine scores. With uncertainty at quarterback, the Jayhawks should build the offense around him but need improvement from the offensive line. The line allowed 37 sacks last year, and the rushing attack averaged only 3.4 yards per carry. Three starters return, and the unit gets a boost with the return of Jeff Spikes, who missed all of 2010 with a leg injury. 
 
3. Defensive coordinator Carl Torbush has a lot of work to do this spring. The Jayhawks ranked 107th against the run, 98th in total defense, 103rd in scoring defense and 65th against the pass last year. Seven starters return, but end Jake Laptad, linebacker Justin Springer and cornerback Chris Harris are big losses. Getting after the quarterback needs to be a focus of spring practice, after the defense registered only 14 sacks last year. Linebacker Huldon Tharp is back after missing 2010 with a leg injury and should immediately boost the linebacking corps.
 
Redshirts to watch: RB Brandon Bourbon, WR Brian Maura, CB Dexter McDonald, DE Pat Lewandowski
 
Fantasy tip: Hold off on any Kansas quarterback or receivers for now, but Sims has the ability to rush for 1,000 yards this season. Consider the sophomore a nice late-round sleeper pick.
 
Early Enrollees: OL Dylan Admire, DE Julius Green, RB Darrian Miller
 
Kansas State Wildcats
 
2010 Record: 7-6, 3-5 Big 12
Spring practice: April 6-April 30
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 6
 
Spring storylines facing the Wildcats:
 
1. Another year, another quarterback question for Kansas State. Carson Coffman had a so-so career in Manhattan but has finished his eligibility, leaving four players to battle for the starting job. Junior college transfer Justin Tuggle seems to have the early edge, but don’t rule out true freshman Daniel Sams or senior Sammuel Lamur. Junior Collin Klein spent last season at quarterback, rushing for 432 yards and six touchdowns. However, Klein has been rumored to be moving out to receiver, which seems to indicate Tuggle will be the starter.
 
2. Not only must the Wildcats find an answer at quarterback, but they also have to replace the heart and soul of the 2010 offense – running back Daniel Thomas. Thomas rushed for 1,585 yards and 19 touchdowns last season and earned second-team All-Big 12 honors. Although Thomas is a huge loss, the Wildcats do have two talented options – Tennessee transfer Bryce Brown and redshirt freshman DeMarcus Robinson. Brown rushed for nearly 500 yards in his freshman season at Tennessee, while Robinson ranked as a four-star recruit by Rivals.com. 
 
3. In addition to quarterback question marks, the offense needs someone to emerge as the go-to receiver. Is Chris Harper ready to blossom into a No. 1 option? Tramaine Thompson is a 5-foot-7 speedster and showed promise with 19 receptions in the first seven games of 2010. Brodrick Smith also returns, after suffering a leg injury against Nebraska and missing the final eight games. The Wildcats didn’t bring in any JUCO receivers, so it’s up to the returning players to step up in 2011.
 
4. The defense is in need of a major overhaul this offseason. The Wildcats finished 119th nationally against the run and allowed 29 points per game. Six starters return, and the defense should get immediate help with the addition of five junior college transfers. Arthur Brown (Miami) and Tanner Burns (San Jose State) are also eligible after sitting out last season due to transfer rules and should compete for playing time. With a rebuilding offense, the Wildcats need the defense to be better in 2011.
 
Redshirts to watch: RB DeMarcus Robinson, OL Tomasi Mariner, DT Javonta Boyd
 
Fantasy tip: Can Bryce Brown live up to the hype? The sophomore was a highly touted prospect but still has plenty to prove. With Thomas gone, Brown figures to have first crack at getting 20 carries a game.
 
Early Enrollees: TE Tyler Davidson, OL Kason Hostrup, DE Kyle Klein, WR Destin Mosely, WR Curry Sexton, DB Nigel Malone (JC), ATH Angelo Pease (JC), OL Shaun Simon (JC), QB Justin Tuggle (JC), DL Meshak Williams (JC)
 
Missouri Tigers
 
2010 Record: 10-3, 6-2 Big 12
Spring practice: March 8-April 16
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 7
 
Spring storylines facing the Tigers:
 
1. Blaine Gabbert decided to bolt to the NFL a year early, leaving James Franklin, Tyler Gabbert, Ashton Glaser and Corbin Berkstresser to battle for the starting job. Franklin was Blaine Gabbert’s backup last season, used mostly on the ground with 116 rushing yards and two scores. Tyler Gabbert isn’t as tall as his brother Blaine, but he seems to be a good fit for Missouri’s spread offense. Franklin has the early edge due to his experience, and Missouri’s track record of developing successful quarterbacks should make this a fairly easy transition. 
 
2. Outside of replacing quarterback Blaine Gabbert, Missouri’s biggest offensive spring issue is finding a replacement for center Tim Barnes. The receiving corps is loaded with talent, while three players rushed for more than 400 yards last year. Four starters return to one of the Big 12’s top offensive lines, with Travis Ruth and Justin Britt battling to replace Barnes. Overall, the Tigers appear to be in good shape on offense heading into 2011.
 
3. Pass defense has been an issue at Missouri, but last year saw improvement in this area. The Tigers finished 37th nationally against the pass but must replace three starters for 2011. Gone are cornerbacks Kevin Rutland (honorable mention All-Big 12) and Carl Gettis, along with safety Jarrell Harrison (honorable mention All-Big 12). Strong safety Kenji Jackson is the lone returning starter, while Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines will be asked to take on a bigger role at cornerback. Although the Tigers have some holes to fill in the secondary, they should have one of the Big 12’s best front sevens. 
 
Redshirts to watch: QB Tyler Gabbert, DE Kony Ealy, DT Lucas Vincent
 
Fantasy tip: Receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew might see a drop in numbers this year, but expect both to be starting options in any league format.
 
Early Enrollees: OL Michael Boddie, DL Gerrand Johnson, WR Wesley Leftwich
 
Oklahoma Sooners
 
2010 Record: 12-2, 6-2 Big 12
Spring practice: March 21-April 16
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 6
 
Spring storylines facing the Sooners:
 
1. The Sooners were Athlon’s pre-preseason No. 1 team and should be among the favorites when the first polls for 2011 are released. The holes to fill in spring practice are minimal, but the defense was dealt a blow when Jamell Fleming was ruled out of spring practice due to a personal reason. Fleming is not enrolled in spring classes but could return to the team in the fall. The senior was expected to be one of the key contributors in the secondary this season, and if he doesn’t return, that leaves the Sooners with two returning starters in the defensive backfield.
 
2. DeMarco Murray finally stayed healthy for a full slate, rushing for 1,214 yards and catching 71 passes for 594 yards and five scores last season. With Murray out of eligibility, the Sooners may turn to a committee to carry the workload in 2011. Roy Finch rushed for 398 yards and two scores last season, while Brennan Clay added 127. Both are expected to contend for time, along with Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller and incoming freshman Brandon Williams. Even though Murray is a huge loss, the Sooners should be able to generate plenty of production.
 
3. Two starters are back on the defensive line, but the Sooners will miss end Jeremy Beal. Beal collected 8.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss last season and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors. With Beal gone, the Sooners need to get more production from the rest of the line. Frank Alexander should push for the team lead in sacks, after registering seven last season. Tackle isn’t a glaring need, but the Sooners could stand to get more production out of Stacy McGee, Casey Walker and Jamarkus McFarland. 
 
Redshirts to watch: S Quentin Hayes, WR Justin McCay, DE Geneo Grissom, DT Eric Humphrey
 
Fantasy tip: Bank on a big year from Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles, but the running back situation could be a committee approach.
 
Early Enrollees: DT Marquis Anderson, QB Kendal Thompson, RB Brandon Williams
 
Oklahoma State Cowboys
 
2010 Record: 11-2, 6-2 Big 12
Spring practice: March 7-April 16
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 6
 
Spring storylines facing the Cowboys:
 
1. Coordinator Dana Holgorsen spent one year in Stillwater, leading the Cowboys to the No. 3-ranked scoring offense in the nation. Holgorsen bolted to West Virginia to be the head-coach-in-waiting in the offseason, and Mike Gundy hired former Oklahoma State assistant Todd Monken to be the new offensive coordinator. Monken spent the last four years as the wide receiver coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Gundy wants to keep a similar offense in place, but expect some small tweaks for the Cowboys in 2011.
 
2. With quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon returning, the Cowboys have few offensive question marks. However, running back Kendall Hunter has finished his eligibility, leaving Joseph Randle, Jeremy Smith and incoming freshman Herschel Sims to compete for playing time. Randle and Smith were solid in limited action last year, but it may take both of them to replace Hunter’s production.
 
3. Three starters return in the front seven of the defense, but there were significant losses for coordinator Bill Young. Gone are ends Ugo Chinasa and Darius Hart, along with tackles Chris Donaldson and Shane Jarka. Richetti Jones started six games last year and should improve upon his 4.5 sacks. Jamie Blatnick will likely join Jones as the other starting end. Tackle is a bigger question mark, with Nigel Nicholas and Cooper Bassett the most experienced returners. Keep a close eye on junior college transfer Maurice Hayes and redshirt freshmen Joe Okafor, Christian Littlehead and Diamonte Wheeler as they look to make their mark in the rotation this spring.
 
4. One of the biggest holes for Oklahoma State will be on special teams with the departure of the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year in kicker Dan Bailey. Replacing Bailey will be a huge issue for the Cowboys this spring, and they may look to punter Quinn Sharp to serve as the kicker this season.
 
Redshirts to watch: DT Diamonte Wheeler, WR Kevin Johnson, DT Christian Littlehead, DT Joe Okafor
 
Fantasy tip: Expect another monster year from Weeden and Blackmon, but the running backs could be difficult to project. Consider Randle ahead of Smith in the early running back ranks for 2011.
 
Early Enrollees: OL Michael Bowie (JC), LB Kris Catlin, OL Travis Cross, DT Maurice Hayes (JC), DE Ryan Robinson (JC), QB J.W. Walsh
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 
<p> Athlon takes a look at some of the key questions from around the Big 12 this spring.</p>