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Kansas Football: Jayhawks' 2021 Spring Preview

Kansas Football: Jayhawks' 2021 Spring Preview

Kansas Football: Jayhawks' 2021 Spring Preview

Since Mark Mangino was removed as head coach after the 2009 season, Kansas football has not finished better than 3-9 in any season. So Jayhawk fans have seen their share of very low lows.

But right now may be the deepest that Kansas football has sunk. Off a winless season, the school is without not only a permanent head coach but also an athletic director, meaning the future of the program is very unclear.

Still, spring practice will go on, and here are five storylines to follow as the sessions begin.

5 Storylines to Watch During Kansas' Spring Practices

1. Can Emmett Jones lead the way?

When Les Miles was fired in early March, it put the Kansas administration in a tough position. Athletic director Jeff Long, who either knew or should have known about the allegations against Miles at LSU, was forced out two days later, leaving the decision on what to do with the football program up to Chancellor Douglas Girod. Jones, who has been the wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator at Kansas for three seasons, was given the interim title and will run things this spring. Kansas does not need him to be Nick Saban or Dabo Swinney right now. What the program needs is someone that can win the trust of the team and guide these Jayhawks on a path for improvement in 2021.

2. Who plays quarterback?

Only three teams in America had a worse team quarterback rating than Kansas in 2020. Without better play at the game's most important position, there will be no gains made in 2021. Jalon Daniels threw the most passes last year, but Miles Kendrick put up better numbers during his time. The battle this spring will probably be between those two, but two true freshmen – Conrad Hawley and Ben Easters – enrolled early and will get a look. North Texas transfer Jason Bean will join the team this summer, so the competition will certainly continue into the fall. But Jones would love it if a couple of the guys currently on campus show that they are ready to compete at the Big 12 level.

3. Please block somebody

The offensive line was an absolute train wreck in 2020. The rushing attack averaged just 2.67 yards per carry, which was 125th in the country, and the quarterbacks were sacked 47 times, by far the most allowed in the FBS. Everyone is back but that may not be a good thing. This unit must take a couple of giant steps forward to compete with any of the teams in the league.

4. Stopping the run

The offense was terrible, so the defense must have been better, right? Kind of. The Jayhawks were fourth in the league against the pass but part of the reason was because opponents never needed to throw. Their 236 rushing yards allowed per game were 50 yards worse than the ninth-rated run defense in the Big 12. It starts up front and there is hope that massive nose tackle DaJon Terry can be more of a presence in his third year at Kansas. Fellow redshirt sophomore lineman Marcus Harris led the team with 7.5 tackles for a loss and could develop into a disruptor at end.

5. Building depth

There were a lot of problems with the Kansas defense, but a big part of their problem was that the offense couldn't stay on the field. Somehow, Jones and his defensive staff have to get young players ready to go. Three of the team's seven early enrollees play in the secondary and the highest ranked of the bunch, safety Omar Burroughs, should see significant reps. JaCobee Bryant was last year's top recruit and the corner should also be ready to compete for time this spring. Classmate Deuce Mayberry played a bit last fall at corner and may see his role expand. Up front, Jerome Robinson could get a long look.

— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.