What you need to know ... The defense carried the team last
year with a phenomenal linebacking corps and a surprising,
active line. Wholesale changes will be made at linebacker, while
all of the pass rushing talent up front is gone. The secondary
will be the strength early on with corner Aqib Talib and safety
Jerome Kemp on the verge of being among the best in the league.
This is an athletic enough defense to be aggressive and come up
with some big plays, but it's woefully short on overall
experience, much less developed depth.
Tackles: Jerome Kemp,
Paul Como, 2
Interceptions: Aqib Talib, 2
Star of the defense: Sophomore CB Aqib Talib
Player that has to step up and become a star: The entire
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Mike Rivera
Best pro prospect: Talib
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Talib, 2) DT James
McClinton, 3) SS Jerome Kemp
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, secondary
Weakness of the defense:
The line takes a huge hit losing all the pass rushers
and an All-America caliber talent in Charlton Keith. There's good size
with 280-pound Rodney Allen playing on the end, but if Paul Como isn't
getting into the backfield on a regular basis from the other side,
opposing quarterbacks will get way too comfortable. James McClinton is
an emerging star in the middle, while big Wayne Wilder has to grow into
a top run stopper. Forget about any depth ready to provide any help.
The key to the unit: Keep stopping the run. As long as the front
four can hold their own against the power running teams, KU's D will be
fine in Big 12 play.
Defensive Line Rating: 6.5
- DE Rodney Allen, Sr. - 18 tackles, 1 sack, 7 TFL
Allen had a nice year as a spot starter earning honorable mention
All-Big 12 honors after coming over from the JUCO ranks. At 280 pounds,
he can play tackle as well as end and will move around where needed.
While not a pure pass rusher, he's good at getting into the backfield.
- DT Wayne Wilder, Sr. - 7 tackles, 1 TFL
Wilder stepped in to a key backup role after coming over from Garden
City CC in Kansas. At 6-3 and 295 pounds, he's the biggest lineman in
the rotation and has to grow into a rock against the run. He was a good
interior pass rusher in junior college and should start doing more now
that he has the full-time job.
- DT James McClinton, Jr. - 27 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFL
The rising star of the line, McClinton has the talent and potential to
grow into the type of run stuffer the defense can work around. With his
starting experience and combination of size, strength and quickness,
he'll be expected to be the leader of the front seven.
- DE Paul Como, Sr. - 13 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 TFL, 2 broken up
passes, 3 quarterback hurries
Como did a little of everything well last season in a backup role. He
was a pass rushing terror at Saddleback College in California, and now
he needs to be the team's top pass rusher. At 248 pounds, he's the
smallest projected starter up front, but he's also the quickest.
- DT Caleb Blakesley, RFr.
One of the team's best scout team players last year, the 6-5, 277-pound
redshirt freshman will be a key reserve playing behind Wayne Wilder.
He's strong and athletic with the upside to grow into a special player
- DE John Larson, Soph. - 1 tackle
A smart, hard working end, he doesn't have star skills, but he has the
motor to turn into a decent defender behind Paul Como.
KU has to replace 278 tackles and all the leadership Nick
Reid, Kevin Kane, and Banks Floodman provided. There aren't players of
those caliber ready to step up, but there's more than enough athleticism
and some good potential with Mike Rivera looking like a strong option in
the middle and Joe Mortensen a promising outside defender. The rest of
the linebacking corps is full of hard-nosed safeties.
The key to the unit:
Play through the problems. This is hardly a polished
group and it'll need half the season before it has enough experience to
start sniffing out plays.
Linebacker Rating: 6
- Joe Mortensen, Soph.- 4 tackles
A good-sized outside defender, the 245-pound sophomore saw time in every
game last season. He has tackling ability making 171 tackles his senior
year in high school in Oakland, California. He won't be Nick Reid, but
he'll be expected to grow into one of the team's top tacklers.
- Mike Rivera, Soph. - 20 tackles
One of the team's top recruits a few years ago, Rivera played well in a
reserve role in the middle as well as on special teams. While he's a big
hitter with nice range, he'll have to show early on that he can get into
the backfield and be a disruptive force. At 6-3 and 250 pounds, he has
more then enough size to hold up against the power running teams.
- James Holt, Soph. - 6 tackles
One of the team's most versatile and talented special teamers, the 6-3,
200-pound sophomore will be expected to be an active tackler on the
outside. He has the smarts and athleticism to quickly become a dangerous
free-lancer, and he has enough strength to play bigger than his size
against the run.
- Jake Schermer, RFr.
More of a safety than a linebacker, the 6-2, 200-pound redshirt freshman
will be a speedier option than Joe Mortensen at one of the outside
spots. He's a great athlete and a form tackler.
- Brandon Duncan, RFr.
A top scout teamer last year, the 206-pound Duncan is a quick option in
the middle behind Mike Rivera. He's a phenomenal athlete, but he's not
going to be a top run stuffer.
The pass defense wasn't as strong as the run defense last
season, but now it'll have to be the strength of the defense early on.
Corner Aqib Talib and safety Jerome Kemp are strong players to build
around, and there's help on the way from the JUCO ranks with Blake
Bueltel and Michael McCoy in the mix for starting time at corner.
The key to the unit: The JUCO transfers have to shine
right off the bat and Aqib Talib has to play like an All-Big 12 caliber
Secondary Rating: 7.5
- CB Aqib Talib, Soph. - 54 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4
TFL, 8 broken up passes, 2 forced fumbles
The team's best returning defender and one of the few with any
appreciable experience, Talib can play safety or corner. He's a big
hitting 6-2, 180-pounder with the speed to grow into a more-than-solid
corner. He was picked on at times last year, but he came through with
flying colors turning into one of the Big 12's best young open field
tackling defensive backs.
- FS Darrell Stuckey, RFr.
Stuckey emerged this spring as the starter and should hold down the job
for the next four years. He has good size at 6-1 and 183 pounds and
tremendous quickness with a nose for the ball. If he ends up starting
the whole season, it'll be a shock if he's not one of the team's leaders
in broken up passes.
- SS Jerome Kemp, Sr. - 58 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFL, 3 broken up
passes, 3 forced fumbles
A huge hitter who should get more recognition this year now that he's
one of the few returning defensive players with any experience. He led
the Jayhawks with three forced fumbles and should provide a tone-setting
attitude to the secondary.
- CB Blake Bueltel, Jr.
The JUCO transfer holds one of the starting spots, but he's going to
have to prove he can hold up with team's staying away from Aqib Talib on
the other side. While he has decent speed and the experience from his
time at Butler County CC in Kansas, he's an unknown.
- FS Sadiq Muhammed, Soph. - 8 tackles
After seeing a little time as a reserve, Muhammad will combine with
Darrell Stuckey at free safety providing more experience. At 6-0 and 190
pounds he has decent size and good range.
- -SS Tang Bacheyie, Soph.
He finally appears ready to be part of the mix after being hurt
in high school and taking a year to join the team. The Canadian
native is a 6-1, 195-pound sprinter who'll push for playing time
all year in the secondary, but he could also end up at running
back to provide more flash.
- CB Michael McCoy, Jr.
A good tackling corner who has the speed to hang with the faster Big 12
receivers, he'll start out behind Aqib Talib but could move to the other
side if needed. He made 55 tackles, two interceptions and ten broken up
passes last year at San Bernadino Valley CC in California.
The kicking game will be rock solid with Scott Webb as
steady a placekicker as any in the Big 12 and punter Kyle Tucker certain
to be in the mix for All-America recognition.
a replacement for punt returner Charles Gordon will be next to
impossible, but receiver Brian Murph will give it a try. Marcus Herford
will be the main kickoff returner early on. The kickoff coverage unit
only allowed 16.0 yards per try last year and is expected to be almost
as strong again.
The key to the unit: As long as the return game turns
out to be fine, the special teams will be a strength.
Special Teams Rating: 8
- PK Scott Webb, Jr. - 14-19 FGs, 27-29 FGs
Webb earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors showing off a decent leg
and coming through clutch with a 34-yard shot to beat Iowa State and get
KU to a bowl game. He only missed two field goals under 41 yards, and
they both came against Houston in the bowl game.
Kyle Tucker, Jr. - 66 punts, 2,832 yds, 42.9 yards
per kick, 19 inside the 20
Tucker is one of the nation's best punters with range, accuracy, and the
leg to bomb it when he needs to. He was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy
Award, but he'll have a hard time getting first team All-Big 12 honors
in a conference with Baylor's Daniel Sepulveda