About half of the Kansas roster is preparing to begin training camp under their third head coach. The first of those, Mark Mangino, brought unprecedented success and relevant football back to Lawrence, while the current coach is certainly bringing the most credibility and excitement to the program arguably ever.
Charlie Weis takes over an uninspired team that has won two conference games since the beginning of the 2009 season. Aside from instant name-recognition and massive recruiting impact, Weis has brought what Kansas fans need most: honesty. Mark Mangino danced around the truth for years by pointing to on-field success, and Turner Gill was more concerned about academic and off-the-field success than winning football games, both of which he failed to achieve.
Despite atrocious efforts during the Gill era, the current head coach at Liberty left Weis with a healthy dose of veteran players that not only can help generate wins in 2012 but have developed into NFL-worthy prospects. NFL scouts rarely make a pit stop in Lawrence on their way from Lincoln, Manhattan, or Columbia but following a strikeout in the 2012 NFL Draft, a few Jayhawks should hear their name called next year and the years to come.
Ron Doherty - P - Junior
The Jayhawks were historically pitiful on both sides of the ball in 2010 and 2011, even becoming one of the worst defenses, statistically, in college football history last season as they yielded 43.8 points per game. One area that was not horrifyingly embarrassing during Turner Gill’s brief tenure was special teams, in particular junior placekicker/punter Ron Doherty, who was recently named to the Ray Guy Award Preseason Watch List.
The Texas native finished third last season in the Big 12 in punting average (42.5 yards) and pinned opponents inside their 20 on 15 occasions, granted he had numerous opportunities to do so. It is not often a punter is selected high in the NFL Draft, or even selected at all—especially not without a heavy dose of criticism (see: Jaguars’ rookie punter Bryan Anger).
Unfortunately, his pinpoint accuracy was rarely acknowledged or even needed in 2011, but an improved offense and new defensive system should generate more recognition for the junior punter, potentially leading to a late selection in the 2014 NFL Draft or an early free agent rookie contract.
Derek Fine was the last Kansas tight end selected in the NFL Draft
Mike Ragone - TE - Senior
Mike Ragone, a Notre Dame transfer, takes over for the inconsistent Tim Biere in the Jayhawk offense. Ragone has had difficulty battling injuries during his collegiate career, missing all of the 2009 season and all but one game of the 2011 season. Despite this history he remained a highly sought-after offensive weapon when deciding to transfer from Notre Dame for his last year of eligibility. While he does fit the mold of the modern day NFL tight end, many are skeptical of his pass-catching abilities and his chances of being a reliable dynamic playmaker.
Ragone was named to the John Mackey Award Watch List, an award that honors the top tight end in the country each year. The Big 12 has an impressive history of developing productive tight ends and his chemistry with former Irish QB Dayne Crist and coach Charlie Weis should only help make him a late Day 2 or early Day 3 selection in the 2013 NFL Draft.
A move to safety might help land McDougald in the NFL
Bradley McDougald - S - Senior
Bradley McDougald, an Ohio native and 4-star recruit, turned many heads after de-committing from the Buckeyes shortly before signing day in 2009 and committing to then-coach Mark Mangino. He apparently viewed Tressel’s program as too much of a professional team and did not see the much desired opportunity to play wide receiver as opposed to his recruited position of defensive back.
His athleticism was never questioned but he failed to impress, causing the coaching staff to move McDougald to safety toward the end of his freshman season. Again starting at wide receiver the following year, he continued to show flashes of brilliance but once again switched to safety, a position he has since held full time.
His improved physicality and ball-hawking skills have led to impressive individual performances, leading many to believe he has fallen victim to poor defensive schemes and lack of talent around him.
Tanner Hawkinson - OT - Senior
Hawkinson has seen four different positions since his arrival in Lawrence in 2009, starting as a tight end recruit before quickly stopping at defensive line and finally landing at left tackle. He started every game at left tackle as both a freshman and sophomore before moving to right tackle as a junior in 2011, enduring enormous offensive transition and subsequent turmoil.
Despite a host of moving pieces and numerous blocking schemes around him, Hawkinson has developed in a premier offensive lineman in the Big 12. He may still lack the necessary strength and run-blocking power for an NFL tackle, but his above average quickness and versatility make him an intriguing prospect for NFL teams. With a traditional pro-style QB in Dayne Crist behind center, Hawkinson’s sixth since arriving on campus, along with a move back to left tackle will certainly aid in his development and may vault him into a Day 2 selection.
Dayne Crist - QB - Senior
Former Notre Dame QB and Charlie Weis student Dayne Crist is the most celebrated recruit or transfer player in the history of the Kansas football program. He may have failed to find a niche in the Irish offense under Brian Kelly the last two seasons, largely due to injuries and subsequent ineffectiveness, but he still possesses the size, arm strength and football IQ to be a Day 1 or early Day 2 selection next April.
Todd Reesing certainly lacked the traditional physical features of a premier quarterback but he still managed to become the most prolific passer in the school’s history, something another undersized QB, Jordan Webb, could not duplicate. Kansas fans are drooling at the opportunity to watch a play-caller with similar attributes to those of the elite QBs in the Big 12 over the last decade.
He may have only thrown for 130 total yards under Weis, but it is no secret Crist joined his former coach in Lawrence in order to develop into an NFL quarterback. His knowledge of Weis’ pro-style passing attack and a healthy dose of surrounding weapons will surely improve his decision-making and delayed pocket reactions. Crist has the best chance to become only the second Jayhawk selected in the first round since 1993.