University of Kansas

Can you rebuild an offensive line in four months? KU football is about to try

The great Kansas offensive line experiment of 2018 took another interesting twist Saturday.

KU, through an updated roster released during Saturday’s media day, confirmed the addition of four new O-linemen: Cal graduate transfer Dwayne Wallace and juco players Reuben Lewis (Coffeyville CC), Api Mane and Adagio Lopeti (College of San Mateo).

It continued a summer trend. KU previously picked up grad transfer additions from Ohio State (Kevin Feder) and Houston (Alex Fontana), with new KU offensive line coach A.J. Ricker following through on a promise to scour the country for more bodies.

“I thought it went well. I really did,” Ricker said of securing the additions. “The proof, I guess, will be in the pudding is what they say. But I’ll tell you, the one thing we do have is we’ve got some depth.”

Anyone trying to project KU’s offensive line depth chart during spring practices would likely feel silly about that attempt now.

Just 3 1/2 months after coach David Beaty decided against having a spring game because he said the Jayhawks had only eight healthy bodies at the position, four of KU’s starters could now be players who weren’t even with the team before summer school.

“The great thing about all of those new guys, it gives us some real competition,” Beaty said.

This obviously isn’t the way any program would script it.

Offensive line often is a position group built on cohesion. Even Ricker admits that during his playing career at Missouri, part of what made him successful at center was having a good understanding of the teammates next to him.

Ideally, teams also like to develop offensive linemen through their own strength program. KU won’t have that luxury either, instead importing players who have built their bodies under someone else’s supervision.

For Ricker, though, this is about getting immediate help for a unit that is clearly the Jayhawks’ biggest question mark heading into the 2018 season.

Now, he has less than a month to figure out how the pieces fit.

“As much as I hate doing it, it’s going to be musical chairs for this first couple weeks,” Ricker said. “The beauty of football, with competition, guys are going to distance themselves.”

So how wacky could KU’s offensive line get in 2018? Consider this: Left tackle Hakeem Adeniji, who has been the group’s anchor following consecutive all-Big 12 honorable mention seasons, is one of eight players working on his snapping as a potential center. While Ricker doesn’t want to commit anyone to a position yet, he also isn’t ruling out the possibility that KU’s best returning lineman might move to the interior.

“You never know,” Ricker said. “And really, how athletic he is, that’s kind of what you’re looking for in a center.”

The fact that Ricker would consider such a change likely speaks to the talent KU has added with its transfers. Ricker says just as important, though, has been an improvement in the offensive line’s mentality with the arrival of veteran players; he’s seen improved focus from his guys in meeting rooms and also has sensed some extra fire in drills.

“Guys just can’t float through practice any more,” Ricker said. “That’s how it should be.”

There are risks with this path for sure. KU’s offensive line could struggle early while players learn both the playbook and their assignments. The Jayhawks also could feel the pain of adding some of these stopgap solutions in future years, with many of these players — as grad transfers and blue shirts — likely taking away scholarships from the 2019 recruiting class.

Ricker, for his part, can only allow himself to focus on what’s directly ahead. He needs to figure out his best players over the next three weeks, then try to prepare those guys for the opener against Nicholls State after that.

“It’ll be interesting to see,” Ricker said. “I know it’s Day 2, but a lot of good things and a lot of things we’ve got to work on.”