RCW: Football Offensive Preview
Explosive. Fast-paced. Up-tempo. High octane.
Those are just a few of the adjectives that first-year offensive coordinator Doug Meacham would like fans to use to describe the 2017 version of the Kansas football offense.
Meacham, who arrived at KU after spending the previous three seasons at Big 12 Conference rival TCU, has made a career out of producing high-scoring offenses that are fun to watch.
At Kansas, Meacham will have plenty of weapons at his disposal led by junior wide receiver Steven Sims Jr., who is the top returning player in the Big 12 in receptions per game and is fifth amongst the same group when it comes to receiving yards per game. Sims led the Jayhawks with 859 receiving yards and seven touchdowns on 72 catches in 2016.
“He can make everybody miss and score,” Meacham said of the elusive Sims. “He’ll make you miss. He’ll score. He has strong hands, he catches, he makes the tough catches in traffic. And he’s fearless and he’s explosive. And he can make you miss.”
Sims is not alone when it comes to explosive offensive players. He is flanked by wide receivers senior Bobby Hartzog Jr., juniors Jeremiah Booker and Tyler Patrick, as well as sophomores Chase Harrell, Daylon Charlot and Evan Fairs. Additionally, both KU head coach David Beaty and Meacham have praised freshman Quan Hampton for his performance during fall camp.
“He’s just a guy that continues to make plays out there,” Beaty said of Hampton. “You see a guy make one or two, you’re like, ‘All right,’ you know. ‘He’s young.’ But he continues to make play after play, after play, after play. He’s doing well.”
Another target Meacham plans to get involved in the passing game is senior tight end Ben Johnson. A versatile player, Meacham feels confident using Johnson all across the field.
“We have really been pleased with Ben throughout fall camp,” Meacham said. “He has really given us some flexibility because he is able to line up and run routes from every spot.”
The ground game will feature junior Taylor Martin and sophomore Khalil Herbert, along with newcomers junior-transfer Deron Thompson and freshman Dom Williams. Martin and Herbert combined for 513 rushing yards and seven scores in 2016 and Meacham is looking for greater production from the group this season.
Thompson and Williams both will factor into that. Despite being inexperienced, Williams was a guy who instantly stood out to Beaty during fall camp.
“Unless he gets hurt, I see no way that guy’s not going to play for us,” Beaty said. “(He is a) Very talented guy. He’s mature beyond his years and very talented.”
While all of these players have KU fans optimistic the Jayhawks will put more points on the scoreboard than in the recent past, the true test of improvement will be found in the trenches. Kansas returns four starters along the offensive line, while the group as a whole has added size and experience through its development under assistant coach Zach Yenser.
“They’re just better. There’s really no other way for me to say it than they’re just better,” Beaty said. “They look more mature. They move better. They’re bigger. They’ve gotten better. And that’s good to see. I hope we can continue that trend as we move forward.”
Last, but not least, are the guys who will be distributing the ball. The quarterback battle continues to be one to watch as the two leading candidates for playing time, juniors Peyton Bender and Carter Stanley, have been impressive during fall camp.
Bender arrived at Kansas in January after spending time on the field at both Washington State and Itawamba Community College. In 2016, Bender connected on 211-of-324 attempts for ICC on his way to throwing for 2,733 yards and 21 touchdowns against just four interceptions on the year.
Stanley started the final three games for the Jayhawks in 2016, and completed 96-of-153 passes in nine games on the year. The Vero Beach, Florida, native was instrumental in leading the Jayhawks to a win over Texas as he notched a career-high 220 yards on 21-of-42 passing in the victory over the Longhorns. Stanley drove KU 52 yards (3-of-5 passing for 37 yards) in 51 seconds with no timeouts to set up the game-tying field goal.