2012 Kansas Preview – Defense
Kansas LB Huldon Tharp
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Kansas Jayhawk Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The biggest positive is the coaching staff. Dave Campo is a pro coach who’s a steal of a defensive coordinator, but he’ll have to work plenty of magic to generate some sort of production out of this bunch. There’s experience across the board, but the secondary is full of marginal athletes – a big problem in the Big 12 – and other than Toben Opurum there’s little pass rush up front to help the cause. Darius Willis is a promising middle linebacker and Bradley McDougald is a statistical star at safety, but there aren’t enough playmakers and there isn’t enough toughness up front for a D that finished dead last in the nation giving up 516 yards and 44 points per outing.
Star of the defense: Senior S Bradley McDougald
Tackles: Bradley McDougald, 89
Sacks: Toben Opurum, 4
Interceptions: Greg Brown, Bradley McDougald, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DT Shane Smith
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Pat Lewandowski
Best pro prospect: McDougald
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McDougald, 2) LB Darius Willis, 3) DE Toben Opurum
Strength of the defense: Experience, Dave Campo
Weakness of the defense: Stopping the Run, Stopping the Pass
The Jayhawks have to generate some semblance of a pass rush after coming up with just ten sacks on the year. Former running back Toben Opurum did his part with a team-leading four sacks with 10.5 tackles for loss and 45 tackles, but he can do more. The 6-2, 245-pound senior didn’t get any help around him, but he has just enough burst and closing speed to be a dominator at times. This is his home now on defense fully transforming from the back that led the team with 554 yards and nine scores as a true freshman.
On the other side is junior Keba Agostinho, a 6-2, 275-pound big body who could be used as a smallish tackle if needed but needs to shine with all the attention paid to Opurum. He started every game, but he only came up with one sack to go along with 32 tackles. The raw speed isn’t there, but he has the size to hold up against the run. He’ll work in a rotation with 6-3, 248-pound redshirt freshman Ben Goodman, a promising speedster on the outside with good toughness and a nice burst. He could grow into a specialist.
The horrendous tackles have to be better with 6-5, 292-pound junior Shane Smith having to use his size and experience on the nose. The former walk-on will be merely a part of the rotation and hardly an anchor after making eight tackles in a reserve role. He’ll be used in a rotation with 6-3, 298-pound junior John Williams, the starter early on last year before getting hurt. The former offensive lineman is raw, and he has to stay healthy after only making four tackles in two games, but the job is his if he’s 100%.
6-6, 275-pound sophomore Pat Lewandowski has great upside and plenty of potential as either a big end or a pass rushing tackle, but now he has to start doing more to hold up against the run after starting two games last season and finishing with six tackles with a sack. He’ll have to fight off Kevin Young, a 6-3, 277-pound junior who started the first four games of last year but was never right, finishing with just three tackles in nine appearances.
Where will Josh Williams play? The 6-2, 260-pound senior transferred from Nebraska where he was merely a role play, but he might quickly be a major factor pushing Agostinho on the other side of Opurum. He’s been waiting to get his chance to shine, and this could be it.
Watch Out For … the strong end side on the other side of Opurum. The KU line has to find production from anyone who can get to the quarterback, but there isn’t a sure-thing pass rusher to complement Opurum. It’ll take a lot of trial and error games to find the right guy.
Strength: Options. For good and bad, there aren’t enough sure things on the line other than Opurum. The coaching staff has several different parts of the puzzle to play around with and should be able to mess around enough to find the right five guys.
Weakness: Run defense. This group wasn’t even remotely close. Getting into the backfield wasn’t done on a regular basis and giving up big runs over and over again was the norm. The tackles have to be far, far better.
Outlook: Opurum stepped up like he needed to, but it didn’t matter. The line hasn’t stopped anyone’s running game in years and needs lots and lots of work to find the right mix of players to do something, anything, to hold up. Don’t expect a night-and-day improvement.
Unit Rating: 5
Alright Darius Willis, now it’s your time to shine. The superstar recruit for Buffalo followed Turner Gill over to Kansas, and he immediately paid off starting every game in the middle and finishing third on the team with 81 tackles with a sack and eight tackles for loss. At 6-2 and 243 pounds the junior has excellent size, great range, and is fully healthy after getting hurt early and knocked out in 2010. While he put up plenty of stats, he seemed lost at times and he didn’t do anything when the ball was in the air. With his experience and talent, now he has to be the star of the D.
Taking over for 124-tackle veteran Steven Johnson on the weakside will be junior Huldon Tharp, a 6-0, 220-pound junior who made 22 tackles in a reserve role. He’s not Johnson as a tackler, but he’s a veteran who knows what he’s doing after making 59 tackles as an undersized true freshman. The former high school running back is well past a foot injury and now needs to be a statistical star.
5-10, 205-pound senior Tunde Bakare is really, really small for the strongside, but the former JUCO transfer is extremely fast and can fly all over the field. He managed to finish fifth on the team making 51 tackles, but he didn’t use his athleticism to get into the backfield. At his size he has to prove he can be effective after taking a beating. Bringing more size to the spot is 6-1, 220-pound sophomore Michael Reynolds, a reserve who made seven tackles but has the athleticism and the upside to become a major factor with a little bit of time.
On the way is 6-2, 225-pound Notre Dame transfer Anthony McDonald, a tremendous recruit who never panned out with just 24 career tackles and a foot injury keeping limiting what he could do. He’s not going to move Willis out of the middle, but he’ll be in the rotation.
Watch Out For … Schyler Miles. The true freshman out of Tampa might be the most talented linebacker on the roster with the possible exception of Willis. A pure tackler, he’s an inside linebacker with the toughness to hold up early on. He could be the team’s top backup linebacker from Day One.
Strength: Veterans. Losing Johnson hurts, but Willis, Bakare and Tharp are an experienced starting three that should be fine with a little more time. These three are active, and now they have to make all the big plays they kept whiffing on last year.
Weakness: Proven depth. There are lots and lots of options with just enough experience to step in and not be lost, but there’s a huge drop-off from the ones to the twos. The starting three hasn’t exactly been a rock against the run, but the backups would be disastrous.
Outlook: It’s a strange mix. Willis has to be better and he has to be more than stats, while Bakare has to stay healthy and Tharp has to do even more. There are lots and lots of bodies, but can anyone stop the run? There will be lots and lots of cleaning up to do to make up for the problems on the line.
Unit Rating: 5.5
The Kansas secondary got a huge year out of senior Bradley McDougal stat-wise, finishing second on the team with 89 tackles with a sack, two picks and five tackles for loss, but even with five broken up passes he didn’t do enough to help the pass defense. The former key receiver figured out what he was doing at strong safety and was hardly the team’s issue in the defensive backfield. At 6-1 and 210 pounds he has excellent size to go along with his quickness and athleticism. This year he’ll move over to free safety to better utilize his athleticism.
With McDougald moving over, 5-10, 197-pound senior Lubbock Smith will get a shot again after playing mostly a backup role last year after making 48 tackles two seasons ago. Staying healthy has been a bit of an issue, and he’s not the greatest of all-around athletes, but he’s experienced and he’s a baller making 25 tackles in his limited time. However, he hasn’t done anything against the pass over the course of his career. He’ll be backed up by 6-0, 185-pound sophomore Ray Mitchell, a promising young talent who made way too many rookie mistakes and seemed lost at times. He made eight tackles as a reserve.
The corners have to be far, far better, and that starts with veteran Greg Brown, a 5-10, 185-pound senior who made 46 tackles two years ago and came up with 43 last season with two picks. He’s the No. 1 corner with size, athleticism, and just enough experience to not make a slew of big mistakes, but he’s not a blazer and there’s nothing special about his game. 5-10, 174-pound senior Corrigan Powell didn’t progress after looking like a good prospect early in his career. Among a thin group of corners he has to be a key backup.
5-11, 180-pound junior Tyler Patmon will be tested with Brown holding things down on the other side. A defense talent, he’s not big and he’s not all that fast, but he can tackle making 43 stops with a pick as a nickel and dime defender and cornerback reserve. He’ll work in a rotation with 5-11, 201-pound junior Dexter Linton, who’s more of a safety playing corner making nine tackles as a reserve.
The savior for the weak group of corners might be 6-1, 195-pound JUCO transfer Nasir Moore. Big, physical, and with decent speed, he’s more of a safety than a corner but the Jayhawks need him to shine on the outside in a big way. He made eight picks and 21 tackles last year for East Los Angeles College.
Watch Out For … Smith. The Jayhawks need a tackler at the other safety spot next to McDougald, and the opportunities will be there for Smith to put up big numbers. He might not be much against the pass, but he should make at least 75 stops if he can stay in one piece.
Strength: Experience. Brown is a serviceable veteran corner and Patmon isn’t starting from scratch. McDougald is an all-star playing on a bad defense, while Smith has been around long enough to know what he’s doing.
Weakness: Football speed. It’s not there on the corners. Brown just isn’t able to come up with enough big plays and Patmon is just a guy on the other side. Big 12 receivers will once again go ballistic on this group.
Outlook: To be fair there wasn’t much of a pass rush to help the cause, but the Jayhawk secondary was simply miserable when it came to coming up with a stop. Opposing quarterbacks completed a whopping 69.5% of their passes on this group with 28 touchdowns and just eight picks. There’s experience but there isn’t a whole bunch of talent.
Unit Rating: 5.5
The placekicking was a bit of a question mark early on last year, but junior Ron Doherty took over and was okay hitting three of four attempts. However, he didn’t show any range with all four shots coming from inside 37 yards. Sophomore Alex Mueller was supposed to be the answer, but he only nailed three of his eight attempts and missed everything beyond 36 yards.
Doherty will also handle the punting duties after averaging a solid 42.8 yards per kick with 15 put inside the 20. He has a better leg on punts than he does on field goals, but if he gets help from his coverage team he’ll be a plus.
The punt return game was bad and the kickoff game was worse. D.J. Beshears was an All-America caliber kickoff returner two years ago averaging 25.6 yards per try, but last year he was held in check averaging 20.7 yards per attempt. While that’s not that bad, he didn’t get any help from the other returners. However, he improved as a punt returner averaging 7.2 yards per try after struggling averaging 3.8 yards per attempt two years ago.
Watch Out For … a new placekicker. Doherty is a punter, and while he’ll be used as a placekicker for a while, ideally he won’t have to do it all. The Jayhawks will be looking for all season for an answer.
Strength: Punting. The coverage team was miserable, allowing 14.3 yards per try with a score, and while Doherty was sometimes part of the problem, he did a decent job of hanging the ball up in the air forcing 15 fair catches.
Weakness: Deep placekicking. The offense wasn’t good enough to have empty trip after empty trip. Basically, if the O didn’t get inside the 25, forget about it. The KU kickers were 3-of-9 from beyond 29 yards.
Outlook: The new coaching staff isn’t exactly happy with the special teams situation. There’s experience, and Beshears has the potential to be fantastic, but the kicking game has to be consistent and the coverage teams need to be far better. The team isn’t good enough to lose on special teams.
Unit Rating: 5
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