With the offense now previewed in its entirety, let's jump sides to the defense and an area that will be top of mind for Kansas fans in 2009, defensive end. Last year for the majority of the season Kansas saw Russell Brorson and Jake Laptad take the field as ends. Now as reliable as Brorson was and as much as I liked his multiple interceptions against Josh Freeman, he wasn't a pass rusher. Even Laptad for that matter who does apply pressure doesn't necessarily strike fear into the hearts of opponents.
That said, we've got some new faces and unanswered potential scattered across the board at this position. Hopefully this is the first year since 2005 that we can say we applied an effective rush with our front four but for that will have to wait and see.
In terms of starters at this position probably only one slot is taken at the moment and that is by junior Jake Laptad out of Oklahoma. Last season ended fairly strong for Laptad as he received honorable mention all Big 12 honors while piling up 38 tackles and 7 sacks, 2 of which were safeties. At 6'5" 258 Laptad is a physical end with good speed but probably not in that speed rusher class. He does apply some pressure but as with the offensive line, consistency is the biggest thing with the defensive ends.
Complete Positional Breakdown After the Jump...
After Laptad, things open up a bit. Running first team on media day was 6'7" 280 pound senior Jeff Wheeler. Wheeler has always received fairly high praise from the staff each offseason but just hasn't been able to put together any major minutes on gameday. He's been a fairly solid guy in certain situations but he'll look to increase that to a more steady role his senior year. On his career Wheeler has recorded 25 tackles and 4.5 sacks.
Another name that seems synonymous with potential is that of Maxwell Onyegbule. Max is physically what you want in an end standing 6'5" 260, but sometimes it seems like the game is moving a bit fast for him. He definitely showed some major improvements over the course of last year and late in the season seemed to be finding himself in the right place at the right time much more often. Max has tallied 34 tackles and 6 sacks on his career. I do think this could be the year we see Max O finally start on a regular basis and hopefully put things together for a productive senior year.
Quinton Woods is the new face in the group and based on media day reports he is quick and the rush end he was advertised to be. Granted that's only one practice so we shouldn't get overly excited but it does sound like he'll be a contributor. The question becomes if he is good enough to supplant a couple of guys who have history within the program. Woods comes to Kansas from Bakersfield CC after originally signing with former Big10 power Michigan out of high school. He recorded 80 tackles, 14 tfl's and 8 sacks in his sophomore year at Bakersfield.
Another upperclassman that has shown up on several depth charts lately is senior Dustin Spears. Spears is a 6'5" 246 pound junior college transfer who was named defensive scout team player of the year last season during his redshirt year. So while little is known about him yet, he clearly has impressed the coaches enough that he could see minutes on Saturday.
DJ Marshall is another player coming off a redshirt year and when he was recruited was anticipated to eventually fill that rush end role. At 6'4" 230 pounds it's been pretty quiet in terms of any word on his development but there have been rumblings that adding weight has been a problem and it may be further down the road before he is able to make an impact.
Two brand new members to this group for 2009 and the first is Kevin Young. After a high drama recruiting battle between Kansas and Nebraska, Young landed in Lawrence as a mid year. He's reported to have all the physical tools and based on his offer list, there are a lot of schools that think he has the tools to make an impact. Young is currently listed at 6'4" 242 and has already been seeing reps with the second team so he could be a very strong candidate not to take a redshirt with the need for a strong rotation at this position.
Lastly Tyrone Sellers is the other new arrival. An athletic, quick weakside end prospect, Tyrone is also thought to potentially bring the ability to pressure the quarterback. Tyrone measures 6'3" 220 pounds and while he'll probably need to add some weight, he does look bigger than I expected. Tyrone is one we got to know around here and I for one love his attitude and think that the former Nebraska player of the year will be a factor over the course of his career at Kansas.
That wraps up the end slot, there are a few hybrids in the mix whether it be Quigley, Stephens or Dent but they'll be covered in their true positions. The importance of our success at end can't be understated. Our defenses success or lack thereof will certainly rely to some extent on whether we can create any amount of pressure with our front four. I think we'll see improvement, but I'm not convinced yet that it will be enough. Hopefully they prove me wrong.