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Offseason Overview: The value of the old men of the O-Line

4 min read
Kansas Jayhawks offensive lineman Mike Novitsky (50) during the AutoZone Liberty Bowl between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Arkansas Razorbacks on December 28, 2022 at the Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium in Memphis, TN. [AP photo]

We’ll learn a lot more about the Kansas football program and its outlook for the 2023 season in a couple of months, when preseason camp is in full swing and the Jayhawks really begin preparing for the encore performance to last year’s Liberty Bowl appearance.

For now, though, let’s set the stage for how things look heading into camp.

What’s important? What’s known? Key question marks and players in need of a breakthrough performance for the Jayhawks to take that next step all will be covered in our Offseason Overview series.

Next up: The old men on the O-Line

For any offense, the ability to find continuity and consistency along the offensive line is absolutely critical.

Those guys rarely get the glory, but they’re often the heart and soul of an offense. They protect the franchise player under center. They open holes for the ground game. And their IQ and understanding about what they see and how opposing defenses are trying to attack them often is a huge but overlooked aspect of a team’s in-game adjustments.

The Kansas offensive line, which was among the nation’s leaders in preventing sacks in 2022, was one of the biggest reasons the Jayhawks were able to return to a bowl game for the first time in 14 years a season ago.

Center Mike Novitsky held everything down in the middle, tackles Earl Bostick Jr. and Bryce Cabeldue were steady on the edge and grinders Dominick Puni and Michael Ford Jr. were rock solid at right and left guard.

Others factored into the rotation up front, of course, but that was the core group. The good news for Kansas in 2023 is that four of those five are back this season and the depth behind them is arguably as good as it has been in the past two decades.

Transfers Logan Brown and Spencer Lovell were brought in to add size and both are big bodies with big brains. Don’t expect too much from either player right away, but know that they’re working hard to learn the system and be ready to contribute.

Late-2022 transfer Kobe Baynes, who was with the team last season but only in the mix late in the season, also brings another big body to the offensive front. That trio averages 6-foot-5, 323 pounds.

That’s in the ballpark of the measurements of veteran Ar’maj Reed-Adams, who stands 6-5, 330 and is one of those luxury pieces who has worked extremely hard during the past couple of years to be ready when needed.

Reed-Adams can start if needed but he’s also a terrific rotation piece at a few different spots if not. His experience and his understanding of the culture and what KU wants to do under Leipold is a huge factor in the strength and depth of the line.

There’s not a lot to be concerned about regarding KU’s offensive line. Health is always an issue, but the Jayhawks finally have the depth that’s needed — some of it proven — to withstand the bumps and bruises that come during any season should they need to.

O-Line coach Scott Fuchs is terrific at his job. He’s fun and fair, tough and tenacious and he coaches these guys up in a way that leaves them wanting to be coached harder, taught more and pushed to their limits. He also utilizes a very simple yet cerebral approach to teaching the finer points of the position. And, perhaps most importantly, is a big believer in cross training linemen to provide a well-rounded knowledge base and skill set for all of his players, creating depth in the process.

One of the coolest thing about KU’s depth along the line is the fact that, the cross training allows KU to put its best five healthy linemen on the field any given week. For example, if the Jayhawks were to lose their right tackle for a game or a quarter, they would not necessarily have to plug the back-up right tackle into the lineup. They’ve created a situation where they, most likely, would be able to add their sixth best offensive lineman to the first unit, shuffling things around as needed to make it work.

That, as much as anything, has been the reason for the quick turnaround up front, from revolving door to reliable rock. When you combine veteran leadership with a group of experienced guys who know how to work and know what they want to accomplish, things can start operating pretty smoothly pretty quickly.

That’s the reality of life on the O-Line at Kansas these days and it’s been a long time coming.

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Here's a look at the other entries in our KU football Offseason Overview series:

• What depth & talent bring to KU's QB room

• The race for running back reps

• Examining the D Tackle position

• The value of the old men of the O-Line

• How many tight ends will KU utilize in 2023?

• Major upgrades for KU's kicking game

• Getting more explosive at linebacker