LAWRENCE — With Kansas football’s final full tackle practice of fall camp in the books, Les Miles acknowledged Tuesday that the Jayhawks are not yet where he feels they need to be.
Still, the first-year head coach senses an eventual end to the program's decade-long struggle on the horizon.
“We’ll have our team. This is going to be a team that can play offense, defense and special teams and play it in a dominant fashion,” Miles said. “Now, we have to get there. I’m not saying we’re there yet. But we’re down the road from there.”
KU on Tuesday held a 140-snap full-contact scrimmage, with Miles coming away mostly pleased with the progress on display. The team has less than two weeks before Game 1 of the former national championship-winning head coach’s newest endeavor, with the Jayhawks welcoming Indiana State for an 11 a.m. Aug. 31 kickoff at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Asked about heightened expectations from Jayhawk fans well aware of the former LSU and Oklahoma State head coach’s résumé, Miles downplayed his own role in what would be a historic turnaround.
“I’ve always kind of enjoyed me (being) taken out of the piece, out of the figure, you got it? Because what I’m going to do is set up an environment that allows our players and coaches to play and coach and an environment that encourages success. It’s an excellent way to put a team together,” Miles said. “I think I am handling it well because I think it’s something that I’ve had for some time. It’s going to be the players, the assistant coaches and a team, and it’s not going to be anything else.
“I’m complimented when people think too much of me and I’m mad if somebody thinks too little, but the reality of it is, it’s the team.”
Miles has gone 142-55 in his 17 years as a collegiate head coach. The Jayhawks carry a 23-97 record in the decade since their last winning season.
“I don’t know exactly the timetable, but I’d bet on us one way or the other,” Miles said of the potential turnaround. “... I think that there’s the feeling that (the players) have changed since they walked in that door. That wasn’t me. That was their commitment to this room and this team.”
Camp winding down
With four more low-contact practices left in fall camp — KU wraps with its 19th on Sunday — Miles indicated the team is moving in the right direction, though he’s not without his areas of concern.
“The guys played well (Tuesday). There was improvement,” Miles said. “I’m barking about penalties. We still had a couple of motion penalties, but (there) were much less in pass interference, and for that matter, much less in motion penalties, so I think there’s improvement there. I know there’s a strong want to do that and be a quality football team.”
Miles identified senior running back Khalil Herbert, sophomore linebacker Jay Dineen, freshman tight end Mason Fairchild and junior wide receivers Stephon Robinson and Kwamie Lassiter as standouts at the scrimmage, but he reserved his highest marks for freshman inside linebacker Gavin Potter.
“Gavin Potter’s going to play a lot of football, so get used to seeing him and being around him because he runs well and he’ll hit you,” Miles said. “He likes to play and he’s got a smile on his face when he does hard things. That’s kind of a key piece.”
Miles issued high praise for both his offensive and defensive lines, labeling the former one of the strongest units on the team and — for a brief moment — a unit with an even higher ceiling.
“I think my offensive line will potentially be, at the right time in the season, say early in the season, one of the better offensive lines in the country,” Miles said. “I mean, I’ll put it this way: Before I say country, (that) may have been a bit strong, but very talented, very capable, and I like ’em.”
The offensive line will be anchored by senior left tackle Hakeem Adeniji. An All-Big 12 second team selection last season, the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder should be surrounded by fellow upperclassmen when the season kicks off.
Other projected starters include 6-4, 315-pound junior Malik Clark at left guard and 6-4, 315-pound junior Chris Hughes at right guard. Api Mane (6-3, 327-pound redshirt junior) and Andru Tovi (6-3, 310-pound senior) are competing for starting center responsibilities, while either Kevin Feder (6-9, 300-pound senior) or Clyde McCauley (6-5, 310-pound senior) should start at right tackle to round out the unit.
Miles also identified the defensive line as another group catching his eye, highlighting a true freshman as a potential difference-maker. DaJon Terry, a 6-4, 345-pounder out of Meridian, Miss., will be tasked with replacing former standout defensive tackle Daniel Wise, who signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in the offseason.
“DaJon Terry is as wide as those two seats, with the gap in the middle, OK,” said Miles, gesturing to theater-style seating in front of him inside Anderson Family Football Complex. “He’s going to take centers in every league and give them headaches.”
Other potential contributors Miles identified include 6-4, 293-pound junior defensive tackle Sam Burt — the head coach labeled him “strong as a bull” — as well as 6-7, 294-pound senior defensive end Darrius Moragne and 6-3, 280-pound sophomore defensive tackle Caleb Sampson. Miles labeled 6-2, 290-pound senior defensive tackle Jelani Brown “mobile” and said he “uses his hands well,” though he positive feedback came with a catch.
“Not quite as big as DaJon Terry,” Miles said of Brown, “but I don’t know who is as big as DaJon Terry.”