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 tight end position
There’s a lot of talent, toughness and team-first options at the tight end position, and that versatility should serve KU OC Andy Kotelnicki well during the 2023 season.
None of the Jayhawks’ tight ends are stars — unless you count Jared Casey’s Applebee’s commercial — but all of them will line up at any point against anybody and expect to win their battle and make a play for the Jayhawks.
The fact that Kotelnicki has joked — or is it threatened? — to put as many as three tight ends on the field at the same time this fall should tell you all you need to know about how highly he thinks of Casey, Mason Fairchild, Trevor Kardell and others.
All three of KU’s veteran tight ends have similarities — reliability & toughness chief among them — but each brings a slightly different set of skills to the offense at the same time.
Kardell (6-5, 255), who recently gave up baseball to focus on football full time, is probably the most versatile of the bunch. He can line up in the slot, flex out wide while also playing the more traditional tight end spot and making plays all over the field. He also has the best chance at a breakout, provided the snaps are there, because he has yet to fully tap into what he can do on a consistent basis for a complete season.
Fairchild (6-5, 260) is probably the best known, and he proved last season, during a second-team all-Big 12 campaign, that he could be a pretty solid security blanket for KU QB Jalon Daniels. Last season, the Andale, Kansas native enjoyed a breakout season in 2022, hauling in 35 passes for 435 yards and a team-best six touchdowns while seemingly finding the open spots in every secondary week after week after week.
Casey (6-0, 255), who has become a cult hero in Kansas football circles, remains an unpredictable weapon and an undeniable leader. If there’s anything gimmicky that Kotelnicki wants his tight ends to do in the offense, it’ll likely be Casey who is asked to do it. Beyond that, though, the Plainville, Kansas native, continues to position himself among the team leaders in just about every workout, practice drill and extra session available. He also runs great routes, owns the best hands on the team and has a real knack for making big plays in big moments.
The depth at the tight end position does not end there, though. KU’s tight end room also includes redshirt senior Tevita Noa (6-4, 245), who is probably the most physical of the group and, therefore, the best blocker, as well as future prospects Will Huggins, a 6-7, 245-pound sophomore from nearby Shawnee Mission South High School and 6-6, 245-pound freshman Jaden Hamm, from Eudora High, who graduated high school early to join the Jayhawks this spring.
Regardless of how much that second group plays or doesn’t play, they’re in there learning from those three vets and also pushing them every step of the way.
KU’s tight end position does not necessarily bring any kind of wow factor to the college football world. But there are several dozen teams in the FBS ranks that would love to have the depth and pieces that the Jayhawks have in their tight end room.
And one of the best parts about this group is the fact that, because they’re not known as or expected to be stars or focal points of the offense, none of them have out-of-control egos either. They’re all in it for the same reasons — to play hard, to play for each other, to continue to build the program and to win.
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Here's a look at the other entries in our KU football Offseason Overview series: