University of Kansas

Offensive line could be strength for KU

LAWRENCE — For nearly two years, Kansas offensive lineman Brad Thorson was glad to be known throughout campus as "the guy with really long hair." Certainly, growing his mane 10 inches long was a way to distinguish himself from most of his teammates.

This past weekend, when Thorson got his hair cut and donated it to help make wigs for cancer patients, he sacrificed his label around town and made his mother a very happy woman in the process. Jamie Thorson, back home in Mequon, Wisc., was in disbelief when Brad sent her a picture on Saturday afternoon.

"She was like, 'Who is this guy?' " said Brad, a senior. "She's happy I cut it off. It was a bit mangy. I got it washed out and combed out. It'll turn out well into a wig."

Thorson, who is currently slated to start at right tackle, can only hope he didn't lose his intimidation factor.

"No," Thorson said, "I'm gonna come out there and play hard. Before you step on the field, all opponents will watch plenty of film, so I'll make sure it comes off in the film, not just through the hair."

The Jayhawks' line, which returns all five starters from last season's inconsistent unit, will need to get a little meaner and nastier before the fall. With KU coach Turner Gill and offensive coordinator Chuck Long committed to running the ball more often — sometimes out of traditional running formations with the quarterback under center — the requirements for the linemen are totally different than a year ago in the spread offense.

"It's an offensive lineman's dream to run the power (formation)," Thorson said. "You just get smashmouth football. There's something to be said for the long ball, finesse game, spread offense, but sometimes you gotta make the defense remember you can run the ball, too. So we love it."

Entering spring ball, it appeared that the offensive line would be a potential area of strength for the Jayhawks with all the key players back in the fold. Gill said that their experience and familiarity with one another have eased the transition. Thorson said that, as of Monday, KU's first-team line would be sophomore Tanner Hawkinson at left tackle, senior Sal Capra at left guard, junior Jeremiah Hatch at center and sophomore Trevor Marrongelli at right guard and Thorson at right tackle.

Junior Jeff Spikes, a starter for most of the last two seasons, is currently backing up Thorson at right tackle. The linemen act as if the alignment could change at any moment.

No matter who is out there, the group will be expected to be the sturdy backbone of a young offense with a first-time starter at quarterback.

"We have to be leaders out there," Hawkinson said.

Hawkinson was a surprise starter at left tackle last season, having put on about 50 pounds since high school to transition from tight end and defensive end. Now he is listed at 293 pounds, which somehow feels normal.

"Looking from now to where I was last year," Hawkinson said, "I just feel like I've kind of grown into my body a little bit."

Like Thorson, Hawkinson has changed up his look, sporting a full beard heading into Saturday's spring game at 1 p.m. at Memorial Stadium. And while their looks may have changed, the expectations haven't.

"Obviously, it's dangerous to have that on your shoulders," Thorson said. "That's a lot to live up to. We appreciate the challenge. I think there are offensive lines that are a lot bigger than us in the Big 12, but we're fine with that. We want to go out there and run the ball better than them, have the lowest sack percentage, all of that."