The dust has settled on another basketball season and after looking at the offense 2 weeks ago it's time to look at the defense.
This past season we came in thinking the strength of the defense was in our linebacking corps. Though there were some struggles along the way the did turn out to be a key component and with all three graduating the Jayhawk defense looks to rebuild at that position, modify the scheme a little and most importantly find the heart and sole of a leader who there are some definite nominees.
That said let's jump inside take a look at the positions, the two deep and some of the newcomers for the 2009 defense that could see a lot of change.
Full Defensive Preview After the Jump...
First off it's worth mentioning again that there are a couple of changes in the coaching staff that will likely have a big impact on this group in 2009. Last year Bowen was the most experienced on the crew, the defensive coordinator and the best recruiter. No matter how you slice it, that's a tough load and burden for any guy to carry especially someone involved in the defense against Big 12 offenses last year.
Welcome on the scene Coach Miller and Coach Sims both are as experienced if not more than Bowen and both are considered upgrades in the recruiting area over their predessesors. Miller will be co-defensive coordinator, someone for Bowen to bounce ideas off and help with the schemes. Sims will take one of the more talented group of defensive lineman and attempt to improve a pass rush that struggled at times in 2008.
Either way this group will provide more guidance and solid coaching to this defensive group that will be looking to make a statement in 2009.
This is a unit that has a pretty wide array of experience some solid size and the potential to be a good group with a solid rotation in 2009.
Returning from last years squad is the surprising Caleb Blakesly. Blakesly was an anchor in the middle when healthy earning All Big 12 honors and if he's healthy is one of our best middle run stoppers and one of the stronger bodies in the middle.
In addition to Blakesly, Richard Johnson Jr. had a great start to the season before battling injury much of the year. Healthy and another year in the weight room though and I can see him really be a solid push type guy through the middle. Slightly undersized but good quickness, strength and heart...remind you of anyone??
Jamal Greene and Darius Parish put in solid minutes in the rotation last year and both are legit division 1 physically. Greene has got to put it together this year now being a Junior while Parish will likely continue the growth process but still has a huge upside. A rotation of those four is a great thing to have and the best news is it doesn't end there.
Newcomers are Duane Zlatnik and Travis Stephens. Zlatnik has looked very strong in spring ball and as a redshirt freshman is running with the first team in Blakesly's absence. Travis Stephens is a solid JUCO addition that has played at end as well as tackle in JUCO. Adjustment is always a concern but hopefully anything he can provide will be gravy to go with a solid corps group already on campus.
Newcomers: Travis Stephens, Randall Dent
Other Returnees: Pat Dorsey
At the end spot we lost a couple of solid student athletes in Russel Brorson and John Larson. No offense to those two because they represented Kansas in a great way but there is only room to improve with the group in place now.
Jake Laptad and Max Onyegbule look to be the starters at the moment but that doesn't take into account what kind of impact Quintin Woods might have. Laptad is the only proven commodity earning All Big 12 honorable mention honors in 08' but Onyegbule has been a buzz in the program for a while due to his potential. He showed some flashes late in the season last year and if he can put it together he could be a weapon. Woods on the other hand has showed great talent at the JUCO level, it will just be a matter of doing it at the next level.
Jeff Wheeler is another returner that we've seen from in the past. He's one of those guys that always seems to be hyped from practice but hasn't put it together in a game yet. Hopefully he'll continue to get situational minutes and breakthrough at somepoint.
New faces to watch this spring are Kevin Young who is a December grad from the 2009 recruiting class. It's very early but I know he's been putting in the work and Kevin could well be a freshman making an impact next year.
Another one is DJ Marshall. He came in with the 08' class and is only a redshirt freshman so there is still plenty of time for him to see the field. The biggest challenge seems to be getting up to a weight where he can be an every down contributor at the end spot. He and Tyrone Sellers could both be great pass rushing ends before it's all said and done.
Newcomers: Kevin Young, Tyrone Sellers, Quintin Woods
This is a position very much up in the air with the departure of Rivera, Mortenson and Holt. The one obvious replacement of Justin Springer went down with a knee injury and while his recovery is likely, you never know how well everything will work again.
That said the key players on the field in Spring Ball are Arist Wright who will be the only senior with major game action and showed solid play especially against Missouri. Wright will definitely be in the mix at the outside spot and I think he'll get the nod as a starter at the beginning of the year along with Springer. Jake Shermer is another senior and has been a special teamer for most of his career and will certainly be pushing for action as well.
Another few names to watch that are relative unknown commodities are Steven Johnson and Josh Richardson. Johnson was running second team most of last year and while listed as a soph he is older and hence more mature physically. I think he'll be in the mix if I had to guess. Richardson has a huge upside but again like Marshall just haven't seen or heard much out of him yet, of course that could be said for most LB's.
Some other Upperclassman to watch are Dakota Lewis who like Shermer has been special teams since arriving at Kansas and could see action.
Two wild cards will be Angus "Beef" Quigley and Steven Foster who both made the move from running back. I'm honestly pumped about both these moves and if they can pick up the position they will be great for the position.
Now the incoming freshman are also wildcards here. Julian Jones has been talked about, division one size, speed and ready made physically. Huldon Tharp is another one that might surprise. Good size, good speed and considered an extremely hard worker. Tharp could be an excellent outside linebacker in the future for the Jayhawks. Lastly Jacoby Thomas is coming in and although I don't see him playing next season this is a position that is wide open.
The secondary will likely be going to a lot of 5 DB sets and the great news is we have five experienced in Big 12 play. Darrell Stucke and Justin Thornton would appear to be locks and leaders of the unit in 09'. Phillip Strozier and Daymond Patterson turned into solid contributors by the end of 08' and should be solid in there positions for 09' The fifth DB has been Chris Harris who has shown he can compete at this level despite struggling a touch last year after a glowing freshman campaign.
The other factors in all this are going to be primarily newcomers. Lubbock Smith comes in as a redshirt freshman at safety and drew a lot of praise in prebowl practices. Greg Brown and Corrigan Powell got shots on the field last year and weren't quite ready. From the sounds of things Brown has shown the most promise but Powell did get a pretty strong shot at things so he must show something to the coaches.
Newcomers that could see action would be Calvin Rubles who has tremendous size, comes from a solid pedigree but is very raw. Prinz Kande and Dexter Linton are both true freshman that come from solid Texas HS programs and come with some pretty high praise. I could see either of them breaking into the lineup if the right situation arrises.
The list goes on though, Ryan Murphy, Anthony Davis, DJ Beshears, Tyler Patmon, Darian Kelly, Olaiten Oguntodo. Any number of these guys could surprise and depth is certainly a strong point in the defensive backfield which is good because in the Big 12 you can't get enough athletes against these spread offenses.
All said and done here is what my two deep looks like going into spring ball taking away injuries and suspensions. We'll take a look at it on the back end as well. Keep in mind this one is the ideal and what I hope we come out looking like. This is probably somewhat wishful thinking especially on the line, but again we'll reevaluate it after practices. Think of this like your tourney bracket you fill out that always has KU winning it all.
LE - Max Onyebule, Quintin Woods
DT - Caleb Blakesly, Duane Zlatnik/Parish
DT - Richard Johnson Jr, Jamal Greene
RE - Jake Laptad, Kevin Young
OLB - Arist Wright, Angus Quigley
MLB - Justin Springer, Steven Johnson
CB - Daymond Patterson, Calvin Rubles
FS - Darrel Stuckey, Lubbock Smith
SS - Phillip Strozier, Dexter Linton
CB - Justin Thornton, Greg Brown
Nickel Back - Chris Harris, Corrigan Powell
Lot's of question marks with this group but also lot's of potential. This is probably one of the more athletic groups and more talented groups put on the field for Kansas but they haven't proven anything minus of course a few. Can't wait to see the new plan of attack, the development in the offseason and how some of the fresh faces impact the defense in years to come.