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2011 Kansas Preview – Defense
Kansas LB Steven Johnson
Kansas LB Steven Johnson
Posted May 22, 2011 2011 Preview - Kansas Jayhawk Defense

Kansas Jayhawks

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: Defensive coordinator Carl Torbush was going to scrap the 4-2-5 alignment going into last season, but for the most part, didn’t. This year the defense really will be more of a conventional 4-3 mainly because the linebackers could be the team’s biggest strength. Buffalo’s star recruit of a few years ago, Darius Willis, transferred over to KU to follow Turner Gill, and he should be tremendous in the middle, while the return of Huldon Tharp from an injury will be a big help on the other side of 2010’s leading tackler, Steven Johnson. The starting foursome in the defensive backfield should be fine as the season goes on, especially if former wide receiver Bradley McDougald continues to improve at free safety after getting his feet wet late last year, but some semblance of a pass rush is needed to help the cause. Former running back Toben Opurum leads a promising crop of ends, and the top tackles are back, but the line can’t be the disaster it was last year.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Steven Johnson, 95
Sacks: Steven Johnson, 2
Interceptions: Isaiah Barfield, Tyler Patmon, 2

Star of the defense: Sophomore LB Darius Willis
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DE Toben Opurum
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman DE Pat Lewandowski
Best pro prospect: Willis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Willis, 2) LB Steven Johnson, 3) CB Isiah Barfield
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Veterans
Weakness of the defense: Proven Pass Rush, Proven Run Defense

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The KU defensive front was more than just a mild disappointment. While the most yards allowed – 291- came against Georgia Tech’s high-powered attack in the second game of the year, the front four didn’t exactly stuff anyone else outside of NDSU. The Jayhawks finished 107th in the nation against the run and was miserable at getting into the backfield finishing 105th in sacks and 104th in tackles for loss. The best player up front, end Jake Laptad, who finished with 4.5 of the team’s 14 sacks, is gone, but everyone else of note returns.

The improvement has to start in the middle of the line and it has to start with veteran tackle Patrick Dorsey. The 6-0, 273-pound fireplug started every game but one, and while he has the motor and the quickness to be disruptive, he didn’t do nearly enough to get behind the line making just one sack and 4.5 tackles for loss to go along with 27 stops. He’ll work in a rotation, for the time being, with 12-game starter Richard Johnson, a 6-3, 283-pound senior who made 37 tackles with 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss. He’s one of the big bodies in the interior, but he doesn’t always play like it. Despite suffering a knee injury a few years ago, he’s very athletic and very smart; he’ll end up starting somewhere.

Coming out of the spring, 6-3, 290-pound junior John Williams found a starting spot at tackle. If he can be consistent, the gig is his after starting once against Iowa State and finishing with 12 tackles on the year. The former offensive lineman is still raw, and he’s not going to hit the quarterback, but he has the girth and the strength to hold up against the run. Bringing more speed and quickness is 6-2, 256-pound sophomore Kevin Young, a former end who only made 14 tackles on the outside despite starting the first six games of the year. Fast off the ball with the skills to be a dangerous pass rusher, he didn’t show much and wasn’t able to do anything behind the line.

Getting the full-time job at one end is former running back and linebacker Toben Opurum, one of the team’s most interesting players. The junior rocked as a true freshman, leading the team with 554 yards and nine touchdowns, but he never seemed to fit into the offensive plans of the new coaching staff. At 6-1 and 240 pounds, and with great quickness for a defender, he was moved to the other side of the ball where he started every game over the back half of the season finishing with 21 tackles with a sack, three tackles for loss, and three broken up passes. All the skills are there to be special, but he has to put it all together. 6-3, 230-pound sophomore Tyrone Sellers is fast enough to have been a sprinter on his high school track team, and he has good pass rushing upside. He got his feet wet making four tackles in four games.

Taking over Laptad’s old spot is 6-3, 253-pound sophomore Keba Agostino, a tough, versatile player who can work inside or out. Thrown in as a true freshman, he made seven tackles in a limited role, and now he’s expected to be tough against the run, while 6-6, 248-pound redshirt freshman Pat Lewandowski needs to be a pass rusher. He might not be an elite athlete, but he has a good frame and nice potential on the outside.

Watch Out For … Opurum. Going into last year, many thought that the move out of the No. 1 running back role was simply a message being sent that more work and effort was needed. Instead, the coaching staff had plans for the big, quick, athlete. He’ll have two years to show what he can do on the end, and if spring ball was any indication, he and Lewandowski can be immediate difference-makers.
Strength: Experience. Considering Opurum started over the second half of last year, with good veterans at tackle and nice potential on the ends, the line should be ready to know what it’s doing. The line is built on quickness, but …
Weakness: Pass rush. The concern going into last season was that there wasn’t any one proven pass rusher to keep offensive coordinators awake at night. Laptad tried, but he didn’t do enough. If Opurum doesn’t quickly emerge as a factor, it’s uh oh time.
Outlook: The line can’t be much worse. KU stoned North Dakota State’s running game, allowing just 73 yards, and then got beaten up by everyone else allowing 30 touchdowns on the year including five to Kansas State. Someone has to start hitting the quarterback.
Unit Rating: 6


State of the Unit: Will the defense use more of a 4-3? Last year, KU spent most of the season in a 4-2-5 alignment and didn’t get much of anything from the run defense. Two key players in Justin Springer, the team’s second-leading tackler, and Drew Dudley, the fourth leading tackler, are gone, but this might be a case of addition by subtraction. If everyone plays up to their capabilities and skills, this could be the team’s biggest strength and it should be good enough to force the D into using more three-linebacker formations.

The team’s leading tackler, senior Steven Johnson, is back after a surprisingly great year. The 6-1, 237-pounder came up with 95 stops with two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss working on the weakside, and now he’ll work on the strongside where he should be even more effective against the run. The former walk-on went from being a special teamer to a star, proving that his tremendous 2010 offseason wasn’t a fluke. He’ll be backed up by 6-0, 194-pound sophomore Prinz Kandle, a very fast, very promising outside defender who’s out of position. He’s a safety playing linebacker, but he proved he can fit in after making 21 stops.

The new star of the show will be sophomore Darius Willis, the greatest recruit in the history of the University of Buffalo. The 6-3, 243-pounder from Houston started the first two games as a true freshman for the Bulls, made ten tackles and a sack, got hurt, and that was it. When Turner Gill left, so did Willis, and after a year off he’s fully healed and about to become one of the team’s leading tacklers. Big, fast, and very, very good, he’s a dream of a middle linebacker for a defense that needs more all-around production.

Willis will be a big boost for the middle, while 6-0, 217-pound sophomore Huldon Tharp will be a huge help for the weakside. After a strong true freshman season with 59 tackles, he was all ready to become the team’s havoc-wreaking playmaker on the outside, but the former high school running back was knocked out for the year with a foot injury. His return allows Johnson to move to the strongside and the linebacking corps to regularly work with three players. JUCO transfer Malcolm Walker is a bigger option on the outside with 6-1, 220-pound size to go along with good enough speed to be an impact player early on.

Watch Out For … Willis. It’s impossible to overstate what a huge get Willis was for Buffalo, and his departure took away the type of player the defense could’ve been built around for a few years. Don’t be shocked if he’s an all-star right away for KU.
Strength: The starting threesome. If the Jayhawks are able to keep Johnson, Willis, and Tharp healthy for a full season, they might have one of the best linebacking corps in the Big 12. All three can be major statistical producers.
Weakness: Proven depth. Willis hasn’t played in almost two years and got hurt early on in his career, and Tharp couldn’t get in the mix last year thanks to an injury. Kande is ready to roll when needed, and Walker saw time in the JUCO ranks, but there’s a huge drop-off from the ones to the twos.
Outlook: It’ll be a big disappointment if this isn’t one of the team’s biggest improvement areas. It should say something that the team’s leading tackler of 2010, Johnson, is probably the third best linebacker in the group.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: Going into last year, the front seven, or six depending on the alignment, was supposed to be fine and the secondary was expected to be the big problem. While the defensive backs were hardly good, they didn’t get any help from a line that never, ever hit the quarterback. KU only gave up 223 passing yards per game, but it was 11th in the Big 12, and 103rd in the nation, in pass efficiency defense. Two safeties with significant starting experience are gone. Chris Harris, the team’s third leading tackler, and Olaitan Oguntodu, the team’s sixth leading tackler, will be missed for their run support, but they didn’t do anything when the ball was in the air.

Senior Isiah Barfield quietly started all 12 games on the field side – the side of the field with more room – and wasn’t bad making 55 tackles with two picks and six broken up passes. The former running back has decent 5-11, 185-pound size and is a proven tackler, and now he knows what he’s doing. The speed is there to hang with anyone in the Big 12, and his year of starting experience should bring more consistency. 5-11, 180-pound sophomore Tyler Patmon will be the main backup and key nickel defender after starting nine games last season and finishing 45 tackles with a sack, 5.5 tackles for loss, two picks, and ten broken up passes. Very smart and with great range, he’ll fill a variety of roles for the secondary.

Junior Greg Brown took over the starting job on the boundary side late last year and did a decent job finishing with 46 tackles with a pick and five broken up passes. 5-11 and 185 pounds, the size is there to go along with good hitting ability and the willingness to do whatever is needed. He might not be a blazer, but he’s fast enough. 5-11, 205-pound senior Anthony Davis has seen his share of time over the last few years, making 14 tackles last season, and will be Brown’s main backup. The quick, tough, veteran was expected to grow into a starter at some point, but it hasn’t happened.

In one of the key moves late last year, 6-1, 185-pound junior Bradley McDougald went from being the team’s third-leading wide receiver to a defensive back, starting the final two games and finishing with 16 tackles with a pick. He has the size to be a solid strong safety, and he has the quickness and athleticism, and he should be a dangerous stat-sheet filler once he gets used to the job. 6-1, 183-pound redshirt freshman Ray Mitchell will be a key special teamer and a decent defensive prospect working behind McDougald. Better built for a free safety job, he’ll be tried out in different spots.

Sophomore Keeston Terry is back after suffering a leg injury that limited him to just three games of work. The 6-2, 185-pound free safety made ten tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss as a reserve, and while he suffered a setback this offseason, he should be one of the team’s leading tacklers as long as he can stay on the field. Considered a possible wide receiver after a good high school career on the offensive side, he’s a speedster who’ll make plenty of plays. If he can’t stay healthy, junior Lubbock Smith will be back at the helm after making 48 tackles and two tackles for loss. A nine game starter, he was fine, but he didn’t do enough when the ball was in the air and he has had some injury issues of his own. With 6-0, 206-pound size and good experience, he’ll be a factor somewhere.

Watch Out For … McDougald. He stepped into a tough situation late last season and looked the part. He’ll make his share of mistakes at free safety, but he’ll also come up with a ton of big plays as the year goes on.
Strength: The starting foursome. Once McDougald figures out what he’s doing, and when Terry gets over his leg injury, the safeties should be good, while Barfield is a decent veteran corner on one side and Brown will be solid on the other. This might not be an elite defensive backfield, but it’ll be good enough to get by.
Weakness: Pass rush. The KU defensive front didn’t do a thing to help the cause last year, and unless Toben Opurum and Pat Lewandowski can start wreaking havoc like they did this spring, the defensive backs will spend another year needing to spend an extra few seconds in pass coverage.
Outlook: The situation is far better than it was going into 2010. There’s decent depth to go along with a good starting core, and while the personnel might not be in place to run the 4-2-5 as much as the coaching staff might like to from time to time, the pass defense won’t be a liability against the average passing teams.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: Gone is placekicker Jacob Branstetter after a decent year, hitting 8-of-14 field goals, and also gone is punter Alonzo Rojas, a one-time star recruit for Bowling Green who never panned out and didn’t use his huge leg to blast away consistently enough to make up for problems with the coverage team. Sophomore Ron Doherty will handle most of the kicking duties right away after seeing a little time on kickoffs. He should be consistent on field goals inside the 40, but he can’t blast away like Rojas for the punting game. Redshirt freshman Victor McBride, though, has the boom on his kicks to potentially take over the punting duties to let Doherty concentrate just on placekicking.

WR Daymond Patterson was awful on punt returns averaging just 3.8 yards per try after averaging eight yards per pop two years ago. He’ll get another shot at the gig, while fellow wideout D.J. Beshears should be in the hunt for All-America honors as a kick returner if he can build on his 25.6-yard average. Safety Bradley McDougald will also see time in the return game.

Watch Out For … The punting situation. Doherty is good enough to be fine in all duties, but going forward over the next few years, it would be a huge help if McBride was good enough to take over the starting punting job.
Strength: Beshears. KU finished 81st in the nation in kickoff returns, but that wasn’t Beshears fault. 96 of his yards came on a touchdown against New Mexico State, but he showed throughout the season that he’s dangerous with the ball in his hands.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The KU special teams struggled last year and have things to work on, and stopping a return man will be Job One. The Jayhawks allowed a whopping 13.9 yards per punt return and three scores, and gave up 23.8 yards per kickoff return.
Outlook: KU gave up five blocked kicks – three punts and two field goals – and was among the worst in the nation in almost every special teams category. This was a big mess that could be cleaned up in time if Doherty is solid right away and if Beshears can be Beshears again.
Unit Rating: 4.5

- 2011 Kansas Preview | 2011 Kansas Offense
- 2011 Kansas Defense | 2011 Kansas Depth Chart
- Kansas Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006