2007 Kansas Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 18, 2007

Preview 2007 Kansas Jayhawk Defense

Kansas Jayhawks

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Kansas Preview | 2007 Kansas Offense Preview 
2007 Kansas Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Kansas Preview 

What you need to know:
The defense had to go through a little bit of a rebuilding phase last season, and while the overall results weren't terrific, and too many yards were allowed, it wasn't as bad as it might have appeared. The secondary gave up more yards than anyone in America, but it gets Aqib Talib back at corner to go along with an upgrade in speed at the other three spots. The linebacking corps, by design, is small on the outside with a slew of safety-sized defenders designed to fly to the ball. They have to hold up better when they're getting pounded on. James McClinton is a star at tackle who should set the tone for the front seven.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Joe Mortensen, 82
Sacks: James McClinton, 6
Interceptions: Aqib Talib, 6

Star of the defense: Junior CB Aqib Talib
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore FS Darrell Stuckey
Unsung star on the rise: Junior CB Kendrick Harper
Best pro prospect: Talib
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Talib, 2) DT James McClinton, 3) DE Russell Brorsen
Strength of the defense: Speed and quickness
Weakness of the defense:
Linebacker size, proven pass defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The defensive line was solid last year, and will be a strength again thanks to the return of 6-1, 283-pound senior James McClinton at tackle after earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. Fourth on the team in tackles with 51, he's active against the run and is fantastic at getting into the backfield with six sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Too quick for most blockers, he could be an effective end if he wasn't so tough at stuffing things on the inside. He'll be the star of the front seven.

Next to him will be 6-4, 300-pound junior Todd Haselhorst after serving as a reserve making one tackle. Now that he's over a shoulder problem that cost him all of 2005 and limited him last year, it'll be his job to hold up against the run and take some of the attention away from McClinton. Don't expect too many, if any, plays in the backfield.

Back at one end is 6-4, 238-pound junior Russell Brorsen, who came up with 33 tackles with four sacks and six tackles for loss. The former tight end played like a natural lineman as the year went on using his speed and quickness to become a major pass rushing force. Now he needs to become the team's main threat and should earn more double team blocking.

Getting the start on the other side will be 6-3, 245-pound junior John Larson after a 13 tackles, two sack season. While he doesn't have all-star ability, he's a smart end with a great motor. He'll be a good part of the rotation and should put up good numbers with all the attention paid to Brorsen.

Projected Top Reserves: Former linebacker Max Onyegbule is 6-4, 230-pounds, and has the potential to grow into a top speed rusher behind Larson. He'll be pushed hard by a few incoming recruits, but his upside will get him plenty of playing time.

Playing behind Brorsen is 6-7, 260-pound sophomore Jeff Wheeler. An interesting prospect because of his size, he made seven tackles and two sacks, and not surprisingly in his limited time, broke up two passes. Even if he adds more pounds to his frame, he's an end, not a tackle.

6-5, 285-pound sophomore Caleb Blakesley was a top scout player, game up with five tackles and a sack in a reserve role, and now should be a top backup tackle as the understudy behind McClinton. Tremendously strong, he has the tools to grow into a possible anchor.
Watch Out For ... McClinton to get recognition as an All-Big 12 star. He can do a little bit of everything and should be the star everyone else works around.
Strength: Run defense. The Jayhawks finished third in the Big 12 in run defense, failing to allow anyone to run for over 200 yards and should be active and productive yet again. .However ...
Weakness: ... it was a mirage. It wasn't that the run defense was always so amazing, it was that the secondary was so bad that everyone spent time throwing it. This is a good line, but it lacks overall star power.
Outlook: The line produces more than it probably should. Compared to most of the other Big 12 teams, there isn't anywhere near the same talent, but it's a good front four with good potential among the reserves. It should take a little while before a solid rotation develops.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters
6-1, 245-pound junior Joe Mortensen is a big presence in the middle finishing second on the team with 82 tackles, to go along with 3.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss. Able to play inside or out, he's one of the team's strongest players, and a sure tackler with enough range to potentially become an all-star. It'll be a shock if he's not one of the team's top three tacklers.

Getting the start at one outside spot will be 6-3, 200-pound junior James Holt, a safety-sized defender with the speed to be all over the field in pass defense. He can also get into the backfield at times with two tackles for loss with 29 tackles. At his size, he'll need to be part of a rotation against the better running teams.

On the other side will be 6-0, 210-pound sophomore Arist Wright, who had a nice first year with four starts making 29 tackles and an interception. He's not all that big, but he'll be a bit of a specialist, being used to swarm against the run while playing like a fifth defensive back against the pass.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 250-pound junior Mike Rivera will start somewhere. He's a natural for the middle, and could get the job once again if Mortensen moves to the outside. All he did last year was lead the team in tackles with 90 on his way to honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. His 66 solo tackles alone would've made him fourth on the team. He's a huge hitter and a disruptive force in all areas, but he's a backup going into the fall.

6-2, 215-pound sophomore Jake Schermer is yet another smallish, speedy outside linebacker who makes plenty of plays with 17 tackles as a reserve. He'll start out behind Holt, but he can play either outside linebacker spot. He's a great athlete who can hit.
Watch Out For ... a steady rotation at all spots. The outside linebackers, by design, are small, but that means they need to be moved around and there needs to be depth. KU has it.
Strength: Middle linebackers. If Mortensen really does stay in the middle, Rivera becomes one of the nation's best backups. There will be plenty of times when both are on the field at the same time to make the corps bigger.
Weakness: Size. Again, by design, KU is smallish on the outside to get more speed on the field. While the philosophy has worked, all the defensive back-sized linebackers have to make defensive back-like plays against the pass.
Outlook: The Jayhawks won't lack for athleticism on the outside, or talent in the middle, and the combination should make for a productive group that'll be a strength as the season goes on. There's even more talent on the way with true freshmen
Drew Dudley and Jason Springer likely to see time at some point.
Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
The secondary might have stunk last year, but don't blame Aqib Talib, one of the Big 12's best corners. While he got beat his share of times, he also won several battles with six interceptions and 22 broken up passes. At 6-2 and 180 pounds, he's big and physical with 39 of his 42 tackles unassisted, and 76 total stops over the last two years. He's an All-Big 12 performer who'll be the star of the defense, even though no one's going to throw his way.

With quarterbacks staying away from Talib, that'll mean 5-11, 185-pound JUCO transfer Kendrick Harper will get picked on until he proves he can make teams pay. He spent the last two years at Butler County CC and turned into a good ball-hawker who made 66 tackles last year. He'll have to battle to keep the job he appeared to win this spring, but he should do it.

The starting safeties are new, and that's not a bad thing. Junior Tang Bacheyie was partly a running back before moving over to the secondary. He's a 6-1, 205-pound sprinter who has the range of a corner at strong safety. He's a significant upgrade in the team's overall speed.

Taking over at free safety is 6-1, 202-pound sophomore Darrell Stuckey, who made 32 tackles in seven games with four starts. He was hurt over the first half of the season, but bounced back to show excellent upside. While inconsistent against the pass so far, he has the tools to grow into the role.

Projected Top Reserves: Stuckey's potential is enough to keep top tackler Justin Thornton in a reserve role. The sophomore finished fifth on the team with 46 tackles and picked off a pass, but struggled way too much against the pass. One of the strongest tacklers in the secondary, he'll find a spot somewhere as the year goes on.

6-0, 180-pound sophomore Anthony Webb started in nine games, finishing with 42 tackles, three interceptions and six broken up passes, but while he had a nice statistical year, he often played like a true freshman in pass coverage. The addition of Harper at corner pushes Webb to a backup role, but he'll see plenty of action in nickel and dime situations when he's not at corner. In time, he'll be a starter again. He has too much talent not to be.
Watch Out For ... Harper. The KU secondary struggled against everyone last year, and Talib can't do it all alone this season. The addition of Harper should be a big upgrade to the defensive backfield, and it should allow for a better overall rotation.
Strength: Talib. Most offensive coordinators will refuse to work to his side of the field this year. Stuckey, or whoever plays free safety, will be able to spend almost all his time concentrating on something else.  
Weakness: Pass defense. You don't finish dead last in the nation in pass defense, allowing 269 yards per game, without having several problems to deal with. Getting beaten deep was a huge problem. The safeties have to be better.
Outlook: As strange as this might sound considering KU had the nation's worst pass defense, it wasn't that bad. It was good against short to midrange passes; it just couldn't handle the deep ball over. Getting Talib back for another year is a huge help, and there should be a decent pass rush to hurry things up, so now it's up to an improved group to be better.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters
The kicking game should be a plus. Senior Scott Webb connected on 13 of 18 field goals last year, with four ho his misses coming from behind 40 yards. His range tops out at just under 50 yards, and is consistent enough to be counted on in the clutch. Senior punter Kyle Tucker averaged 39.2 yards per boot and was terrific at directional kicks with 23 inside the 20 and 12 fair catches. He's a weapon when it comes to pinning teams deep.
Watch Out For ... the kicking game to be a difference throughout the season. Tucker will save the defense time and again by giving offenses lousy starting field position, while Webb will nail everything inside 40 yards.
Strength: Along with the kicking game, KU's returners should shine. 11th last year nationally, and first in the Big 12, in punt returns and 36th in kickoff returns, the production should keep on rolling even though Jake Sharp and Dextron Fields are relatively new to the jobs. KU always springs big returns, and Marcus Herford and his 26.1-yard kickoff return average will be a major plus.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. Webb doesn't have the biggest leg, and it proved costly last year allowing 25.4 yards per kickoff return. Now that the kickoffs are coming from the 30, there should be an even bigger problem.
Outlook: The special teams, overall, will be more than fine. The kicking game is steady, if not spectacular, and the returners will be above average.
Rating: 8


Related Stories
2007 Kansas Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 18, 2007
2007 Kansas Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 18, 2007
2007 Kansas Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 18, 2007

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