It’s early, still just two days after Kansas opened its season with a 31-14 victory over South Dakota. Charlie Weis has conducted just one postgame film session. The Jayhawks have been through just one official game week.
It’s that reality — that the season is still in its formative stages — that gives Weis the most optimism. After Saturday’s victory, Weis was clear in stating that his team, stocked with junior college transfers and newcomers, hadn’t come close to approaching its ceiling.
“We have a lot more ceiling,” Weis said. “There’s some guys that aren’t even playing yet that are going to end up being major factors here.”
One of those players would appear to be defensive tackle Marquel Combs, who didn’t play a snap on Saturday. Combs arrived at KU this summer as one of the signature members of a deep junior college recruiting class, the ringleader of the so-called “Dream Team” movement. Rated as the No. 1 junior college player in the country by ESPN.com, Combs began fall camp as a starter at defensive end on the depth chart.
But by last week, he had moved inside to nose tackle and slotted on the second team behind starter Keon Stowers.
“There’s a number of these guys, the new juco guys,” Weis said, “that although they’re not much playing much right now, we see the potential from them going from backups that are behind to frontline guys.”
It was, perhaps, mildly peculiar that Combs didn’t play a down in the second half on Saturday, when KU had taken a double-digit lead and a handful of backups saw time. That could suggest that Weis was attempting to deliver some sort of message to Combs. But on Monday, during the weekly Big 12 coaches’ teleconference, Weis still appeared high on Combs’ potential.
“We’re playing games now, and right now he’s behind the guys that are playing ahead of him,” Weis said. “And I think that he knows that the sky is the limit for him, and he’s gonna have to work his way up the ladder.”
Combs isn’t the only potential contributor who sat out on Saturday. Cornerback Kevin Short, another junior college transfer, missed the game for what KU termed as “personal reasons”, and Weis wouldn’t elaborate after the game. Short projects as a potential starter at cornerback, and his return could help bolster an inexperienced secondary. Kansas held South Dakota to just 67 passing yards, but the Coyotes spent most of the night attempting to do damage on the ground.
That could change this week when KU travels to Rice, which features an up-tempo offense. The Owls racked up 509 yards on 88 plays in a 52-31 loss to Texas A&M on Aug. 31.
“When you transition so many new guys in there, you expect there’s gonna be some rust and wrinkles when you first got going,” Weis said. “I thought, so many guys were playing new on defense, I was interested to see how that was gonna play out.
“And I’d just have to talk about the collective group, because we really had about seven or eight guys who were playing a whole bunch on defense, especially in the secondary. They didn’t get challenged very much, because South Dakota didn’t throw it very much, but I think we’ll get a little different view this week.”