Who gets the ball?

Kansas offensive coordinator Nick Quartaro has an interesting decision to make for the 2004 season. Coming off a stellar 2003, the offense returns both a talented and experienced stable of running backs and an able group of wide receivers that many are calling among the best in the Big 12. So the big question is - how will Kansas make use of its returning talent?

Will the Jayhawks run the ball more to take advantage of those experienced stud runners? Or will they expand the passing game to include more of a downfield look to better use the wide receivers?

"It still is and will always be a matchup thing," Quartaro said. "Having those guys does change some of the things you can do, but it all depends on how things are working in the heat of the moment."

So the short answer is that Kansas will try to do a little bit of both. Both the running game and the passing game come with questions from last season though.

The passing game lost star quarterback and master improviser Bill Whittemore to graduation, while the running game must replace both tackles and guard Tony Coker, who will miss several weeks with a broken ankle.

Quartaro said that while the team will miss Whittemore, Barmann is more than capable of stepping into the position.

"Adam has a strong arm and is very mobile, and his leadership abilities are really starting to come out - you can see it in practice," Quartaro said.

"Brian Luke is number two right now just based on his knowledge of the offense. Now that's not saying anything about Jason Swanson's ability. He's still the same talented guy that we brought in to compete for the position. He just needs to learn things a little bit better."

Quartaro said he thought Swanson might compete for the position once he was able to grasp the offense. He said that with the other three quarterbacks, it was sometimes hard to get a good look at Marcus Herford, who the team would like to red shirt. Quartaro said he is raw, but talented and insanely quick.

Speaking of quick, both Gary Green and John Randle appear to be having a fine time competing for the spot behind incumbent Clark Green. Quartaro said all three backs brought a versatility to the game that really helped out the passing game. He said the main thing that Gary Green had to learn was all of his assignments and how to block in pass protection. If he picks those things up, Quartaro said he is among the most ready of the incoming class and could see significant playing time.

A position that newcomers may get early playing time is at the wide receiver positions. With Moderick Johnson's eligibility problems and Charles Gordon's move to defensive back, the search is on for those third and fourth wide receiver spots. The top two spots should be locked up. Quartaro said that Rideau and Simmons both have displayed improved speed, hands and leadership ability. Quartaro said Gary and Greg Heaggans, Marcus Henry and Dexton Fields could all make a push.

"Henry is a big guy who runs really well - he was a great catch for us," Quartaro said. "Dexton has the best understanding of the game. I don't want to take away from his other talents, like running routes and catching the ball, which he does well, but it's that understanding that really stands out."

Gordon should also get some snaps on the offensive side of the ball. While the receivers may possess deep speed, Quartaro said he doesn't expect that to change the game plans too much. "We might throw the ball downfield a little bit more, but I don't expect too many changes," Quartaro said. "We still want to throw the ball on some high percentage routes and be able to control the ball with the pass."

Quartaro said the line was a strong point, but that depth was a problem. "The interior is really strong as those guys have been playing together for a season," Quartaro said. "And the outside shows a lot of potential. Cesar Rodriguez and Matt Thompson have looked fine in practice. Now we just have to see them in a game. And we have to pray that like last year, nobody gets seriously hurt." Unfortunately for the line, Tony Coker is out with a broken ankle and could be out quite a while. So a line lacking in depth loses even more of it. But Quartaro did say that there were a few interior linemen who had been playing well thus far. The major spot without depth is at the tackle position, he said.

When Mark Mangino was at Oklahoma, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach was the offensive coordinator for the first year. Leach believes that defensive mistakes, not offensive plays lead to big gains. So he built an offense designed to get the receivers the ball with the chance of a quick mistake by a defender, via a missed tackle or bad pursuit angle. Kansas's offense should remain fairly similar to that plan, with more runs mixed in.

Kansas will look to the sky, the ground, and everything in between to try and move the ball this season. Experienced talent gives Quartaro options, and there certainly seem to be many ways to skin the proverbial cat, or defense, this season.

So what is the answer to the big question, who will get the ball this season?

Everybody.