Preview 2007 - Defense
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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.
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
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
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
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
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
and Jason Springer likely to see time at some
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
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
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.
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.