2009 Kansas Preview - Defense
Kansas S Darrell Stuckey
Kansas S Darrell Stuckey
Posted Jul 3, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Kansas Jayhawk Defense

Kansas Jayhawks

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Kansas Preview | 2009 Kansas Offense
- 2009 CFN Kansas Defense | 2009 Kansas Depth Chart
- 2008 Kansas Preview | 2007 Kansas Preview | 2006 Kansas Preview 

What you need to know: The defense got picked clean by the good offenses, and was fine against the mediocre ones. Unfortunately, KU had to take the best shots from all the top Big 12 offenses and struggled against the pass. Even so, compared to the rest of the league, the D wasn’t all that bad. Now the new 4-2-5 defense will have promise up front, issues at linebacker, and good potential in the secondary. Darrell Stuckey is an all-star safety to build around and Daymond Patterson is a good-looking young corner, but there will be a battle for the other two spots. Jake Lapted is an elite pass rusher who’ll need the rest of the line to take some of the heat off by getting into the backfield. At the very least the defensive front, led by Caleb Blakesley, should be good against the run. And then there’s the linebacking corps that loses 288 tackles of production with James Holt, Joe Mortensen, and Mike Rivera gone. There’s excellent athleticism and quickness stepping in, but there’s nowhere near the size of last year’s trio.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Darrell Stuckey, 98
Sacks: Jake Laptad, 7.
Interceptions: Darrell Stuckey, 5

Star of the defense: Senior SS Darrell Stuckey
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LB Dakota Lewis
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Daymond Patterson
Best pro prospect: Stuckey
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Stuckey, 2) DE Jake Laptad, 3) DT Caleb Blakesley
Strength of the defense: Pass rush, overall quickness
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker experience, pass defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
With Russell Brorsen gone from the left side, it’ll be up to junior Jake Laptad to become the team’s top pass rusher with all the attention on him. He came through just fine as a sophomore with 38 tackles and seven sacks with 8.5 tackles for loss, with his best games coming when the team needed him the most at the end of the year. At 6-4 and 249 pounds, he’s a tall, rangy pass rusher with good quickness and a nice burst. Now, after earning Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors, he’s expected to be a leader of the line.

Looking to step in on the other side of Laptad is Maxwell Onyegbule, a 6-5, 252-pound pass rusher who has six career sacks and 30 career tackles, mostly all coming in the last two years. The senior is a big, tough prospect who’s a pure speed rusher with the potential to put up big numbers with everyone paying attention to Laptad.

Ready to make more of an impact on the inside is Richard Johnson, a 6-2, 280-pound sophomore who started the first eight games of last season before suffering a knee injury. He was emerging as the team’s new star on the defensive front with 14 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Very smart and very athletic, he should grow into a dangerous interior pass rusher as long as he can come back 100% from injury.

The Jayhawks will be good on the outside, and they should be solid in the middle with the return of senior Caleb Blakesley, an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 performer who made 22 tackles and four tackles for loss. At 6-5 and 292 pounds, he’s not necessarily a huge space-eater in the middle, but he’s a strong anchor who has done a great job of holding up against the run. There’s nothing flashy about him, but that’s fine. Stick him in the middle and clog things up.
Projected Top Reserves: Also back is 6-4, 301-pound junior Jamal Greene, a rising star on the inside with good quickness and a nose for getting into the backfield. He made 21 tackles last season to go along with two sacks and three tackles for loss, and now he should be even more active now that he knows what he’s doing. He might not be consistent when it comes to making plays behind the line, but he has the athleticism of an end, which he was early on in his career, and he has the experience to potentially be a bigger factor.

6-5, 230-pound junior Quintin Woods started out his career signing with Michigan but went the JUCO route to Lawrence. He had a good enough spring to be in the hunt for the starting job on the other side of Laptad with great quickness and the potential to be a pass rushing superstar. At the very least, he’ll be a third-down specialist and should put up nice numbers.

Bringing the beef on the inside is 6-4, 341-pound sophomore Darius Parish, who saw time as a true freshman making eight tackles. While he hasn’t been used much in key moments, his size is enough to throw him in there on a regular basis to clog up the run. He’ll rotate on the right side with Jamal Greene.

Battling with Onyegbule on the end will be Jeff Wheeler, a spot starter who made five tackles and a half a sack in a limited role. A smart player, earning Academic All-Big 12 honors, Wheeler has the size to go with the brains. At 6-7 and 250 pounds, he could be used from time to time as a tackle in certain situations, but he’s an end. Now the senior has to do more to get into the backfield and be more disruptive.

Waiting to show what he can do with the spotlight on is Dustin Spears, a 6-5, 235-pound senior who came over from the JUCO ranks to become the team’s best scout teamer. He’s not all that big, but he’s extremely quick and could be used as a pass rushing specialist.
Watch Out For ... Onyegbule. He has the quickness, the experience, and the potential to be a killer pass rusher. Can he be a regular when it comes to get to the quarterback? He’ll get the chance with everyone trying to stop Laptad.
Strength: Experience. This is a young defensive front with room to grow, but there are decent, veteran options for each spot. Seven lettermen are back with more decent prospects waiting in the wings. The coaching staff could come up with a good rotation.
Weakness: Consistency. This was a good front line in flashes, but it didn’t produce throughout the season against the better teams. It’s all about getting to the quarterback in the Big 12, and this front four should do it. It just needs to do it on a regular basis.
Outlook: This will be a good line that won’t get enough attention. Jake Laptad is an emerging pass rushing superstar, and as long as the tackles can get the job done and start to do a little bit more to get into the backfield, there should be a steady presence when it comes to getting to the quarterback. There’s a nice combination of size, youth, athleticism and potential. While this won’t be the best defensive line in the Big 12, it won’t be all that far off.
Rating: 8


Projected Starters
All three starters are gone from the linebacking corps, and they’ll all be missed. James Holt led the team last season with 105 tackles from the strongside, and now it’ll be up to an experiment. One of the most interesting options is Angus Quigley, the one-time starting running back started to work a bit more on the defensive side late in the year before the bowl game. At 6-2 and 222 pounds, he has decent size and tremendous quickness. A surprisingly polished tackler, he should be ready to step in and put up big numbers at one of the linebacker spots

Working on the weakside in place of Mike Rivera will be Arist Wright, a 6-0, 220-pound senior who has had to work to beef up to his current size. He’s been a strong backup over the last three years, and he’s been solid on special teams, making 77 tackles with an interception and 4.5 tackles for loss. While he won’t be as physical as Rivera, he has the speed and quickness to be stronger in pass coverage. He could play either outside position if needed.
Projected Top Reserves: It’ll be an interesting fight to take over for Joe Mortensen in the middle. 6-4, 242-pound Justin Springer is one of the bigger linebackers in the corps and is the one option who appears to be a natural for the middle. An apprentice behind Mortensen over the last few years, he made 23 tackles in 2007 and 15 last year with 2.5 sacks. A good special teamer with good athleticism to go along with his size, he should put up big numbers if he can come back healthy from a knee injury.

An understudy last year, Dakota Lewis, has to show he can handle the work. Holt wasn’t huge at just 226 pounds on a 6-3 frame, but he’s huge compared to the 6-1, 202-pound Lewis. The junior has only made 25 tackles over the last two years, with 11 coming last season, and he’ll have to show he can occasionally get into the backfield like Holt, who came up with ten sacks.

6-2, 225-pound sophomore Steven Johnson got on the field as a true freshman and made just one tackle in his two appearances. A natural tackler with excellent quickness and speed to go along with his toughness, he should put up big numbers in a strongside role. He’s athletic enough to play on the weakside, too.

A safety playing linebacker, the 6-4, 200-pound Josh Richardson, a redshirt freshman, brings tremendous speed and athleticism to the outside. A natural weakside linebacker, he was a demon on the scout team last year and should be ready to shine in a backup role.
Watch Out For ... Quigley. While he still might see time at running back, he has too much upside at linebacker to spend much time on the other side. With his speed and toughness, he could be the team’s breakthrough player.
Strength: Athleticism. KU has a slew of beefed up safeties working at linebacker. Everyone can move, everyone can cut, and everyone can hit.
Weakness: Size. Last year’s starting threesome of Mike Rivera (255 pounds), Joe Mortensen (250) and James Holt (226) were big. This year’s group isn’t. While the upgrade in speed and quickness should be noticeable, it might come at the expense of being run over from time to time.
Outlook: Last year’s linebacking corps had three all-star veterans who worked perfectly together in all phases. They could get into the backfield, stuff the run, and control games. Now, in a 4-2-5 alignment, there’s a wholesale change. This will be a fast group that’ll be aggressive enough to make plays, but it’ll also be the team’s biggest question mark with so many new starters and so little size.
Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
With all the shuffling in the secondary, there was one constant. Senior Darrell Stuckey started every game at strong safety and finished second on the team with 98 tackles with five interceptions, seven broken up passes, and 4.5 tackles for loss. The First Team All-Big 12 performer is a 6-1, 205-pound big hitter who started to do more against the pass last year to go along with his ability to stuff everything in run support. With the speed to play free safety if needed, to go along with his hitting ability, he’s one of the team’s most valuable players. The defense needs his leadership and his production.

Starting at free safety will once again be Phillip Strozier after taking over the job with six games left in the season. Even though he was decent once he took over, making 36 tackles and two picks on the year, he can do more, and he could be moved depending on the situation. He’s one of the team's most versatile defensive backs with the ability to play free safety, corner or nickel back. The junior is 6-0 and 196 pounds with good tackling skills, but he’s not a huge hitter.

Senior Justin Thornton started out the year at free safety before moving over to corner. A good tackler, he was needed more as a big 6-1, 213-pound corner finishing with 63 tackles and an interception with a team-leading 11 broken up passes. Even though he overcame an ankle injury to have a good season, it was a bit of a disappointment considering he came up with five picks in 2007 and closed out last year getting suspended from the Insight Bowl. Now he’ll move around this off-season to try to find the right position, but he’ll likely end up back at corner.

5-9, 175-pound sophomore Daymond Patterson finished off last season, a true freshman season, starting at corner over the final five games. He did a good job with 21 tackles and two broken up passes, but he was raw. To be fair, he also spent time at receiver making 14 catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns, and he was a key punt returner averaging 11 yards per try with a touchdown. While he’s not big, he has tremendous speed and quickness to grow into a lock-down corner.

Junior Chris Harris started for the first seven games of the season at corner before losing his job to Patterson. He followed up a 65-tackle freshman season with a 59-stop season with an interception, and while he’s a good tackler, he struggled in coverage. At 6-0 and 185 pounds, he has decent size, good instincts, and enough speed to hang with most receivers, but he has to do more when the ball is in the air. At the very least, he’ll be the team’s main nickel back where he should put up huge tackling numbers.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-0, 192-pound Anthony Davis is right in the hunt for a starting corner job. The sophomore made six tackles last year, but he had a terrific offseason and appears ready to come up with a solid stepping-stone season with a big opportunity for him at corner.

6-0, 178-pound sophomore Isiah Barfield got plenty of work at corner, including two starts at left corner, and finished with ten tackles on the year. He lost his job for a long stretch and didn’t do much until late in the year. He’s one of the team’s most athletic defensive backs, but he needs technique work and he needs more time to develop.

Working mostly on the scout team last year, 5-10, 175-pound sophomore Ryan Murphy also got on the field as a special teamer finishing with two tackles. One of the team’s top recruits in 2007, he has the speed to be special with a little more time, but he might not get it. He’s expected to be a key backup at corner.
Watch Out For ... More shuffling. The secondary was almost never the same from one game to the next. Injuries, youth, and inconsistencies all contributed to the problems, and it might take at least half the year to find the right combination in the 4-2-5.
Strength: Quickness. This is an extremely athletic group that might not have lightning speed, but should be good enough to hang with anyone. Like all Big 12 secondaries, this one will give up yards, but it won’t get blown by deep on a regular basis.
Weakness: Lock-down corners. The safeties will end up being find, but the corners have to start doing more. KU came up with a solid 15 interceptions on the year, but it got picked apart by the good Big 12 passers. It would be nice if there was more consistency.
Outlook: The secondary was shuffled around all season long with just one constant, strong safety Darrell Stuckey, and it’ll be more of the same this year. The overall numbers weren’t quite fair to the secondary as a whole. Yes, KU finished 114th in the nation in pass defense, but that was par for the course in the Big 12. Facing a who’s who of excellent quarterbacks like Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell, USF’s Matt Grothe, Sam Houston State’s Rhett Bomar, OU’s Sam Bradford, Nebraska’s Joe Ganz, UT’s Colt McCoy, and Missouri’s Chase Daniel, it was a rough year. Even Iowa State came up with 268 yards and three touchdowns. This year’s group should be better and will be far more experienced, but now there has to be more production against the pass. Stopping the run isn’t a problem; everyone can tackle.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
The kicking game lost steady Scott Webb but came through fine thanks to junior Jacob Branstetter. A First Team Academic All-Big 12 performer, he also hit 9-of-12 field goals and hit 51 of 52 extra points. However, he didn’t show off much range with all his made field goals coming inside 40 yards. While only 5-10 and 175 pounds, he’s no wimpy kicker. He came up with seven tackles on special teams.

Junior Alonso Rojas was a top kicker recruit for Bowling Green a few years ago, but he trasferred to restart his career with the Jayhawks. He was abysmal for the Falcons, but that was mostly because of the strange kicking style BGSU had him employ. He has a huge leg and can be used as a placekicker if needed, hitting both his attempts last season, but he was average as a punter. While he put 15 kicks inside the 20, he averaged a pedestrian 40.7 yards per kick.

The punt return game was miserable two years ago, but that changed around with corner Daymond Patterson leading the way averaging 11 yards per try last year with a touchdown. Now the kickoff return game needs help after finishing second-to-last in the nation averaging 17.54 yards per try. WR Dezmon Briscoe will try to add more pop after averaging 27.4 yards on his eight returns. RB Jocques Crawford will also get his chances.
Watch Out For ... more on an emphasis on kickoff returns. The KU special teams have never been consistent under Mark Mangino, but the coaching staff has done a great job of fixing the glitches. Expect the kickoff return game to have a big turnaround year.
Strength: It will be Dezmon Briscoe. After he took over as the main kickoff returner, he was solid. He might be too valuable as a receiver to return kicks, but when the team needs a spark, he’ll be back there.
Weakness: Punt coverage. Last year the problem going into the season was kickoff coverage. This season it’s punt coverage as the Jayhawks will try to work with Alonso Rojas to pin more teams deep.
Outlook: It was a bizarre season as the strengths became weaknesses, and vice versa. No one wanted anything to do with kickoff returner Marcus Herford, and the stats showed. Now the team needs to find someone who can take over the full-time job, while hoping for Daymond Patterson to keep growing as a punt returner. Alonso Rojas is a big-legged punter who’ll be fine, while PK Jacob Branstetter is strong from short range.
Rating: 6.5