Preview 2009 - Defense
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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.
Jake Laptad, 7.
Interceptions: Darrell Stuckey, 5
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:
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,
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.
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
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
Bringing the beef on the inside is 6-4,
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
With all the shuffling in the
secondary, there was one constant. Senior
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.