The other spot in the secondary is the safety position and this year there is a good chance we see three of these a decent amount of the time. In the offseason the 4-2-5 set was discussed and despite Coach Mangino's comment to the contrary I would expect we'll see quite a bit of it to combat the spread offenses of the Big 12.
What does that mean for the safety position? Well, to put it simply it means we'll have three of them. A strong safety, a free safety and a "weak" or nickel safety. All three of these positions seem pretty locked up this year as some fairly reliable options gained experience last season but there is also some very exciting young depth coming up through the system at the position.
To start off with there is the unchallenged leader of the group in Darrell Stuckey. Stuckey has been with the program since 2005 and earned his first start in his redshirt freshman season of 2006. Since then he hasn't looked back logging over 200 tackles in 30 starts and receiving all Big 12 first team honors in his junior season. This year Stuckey has been labeled by some as the best at his position in all of college football and will likely have his name called on the first day of the 2010 NFL draft. Enjoy this one while he's around because he's a special player in a program that has made some giant leaps during his time in a Kansas uniform.
Moving on to the other starters we'll begin with Phillip Strozier who took over at the free safety spot for the final 6 games of 2008. Strozier is a 6' 200 pound Rockhurst product who like Stuckey is beginning to make a name for himself. After redshirting in 2006 Strozier has checked in with 41 tackles while appearing in 21 games and making one enormous block on special teams that helped the Jayhawks secure a victory over rival Missouri in 2008. Going into the year as the starter, Strozier should have the opportunity to really settle into his role in the secondary.
The final "starter" in the safety group started his career as a true freshman opposite Aqib Talib at corner. Chris Harris who arrived at Kansas in 2007 immediately earned himself a starting spot and was fairly effective showing an ability to cover reasonably well but impressing even more with his open field tackling abilities. He was a safety coming in and it is his tackling strength to go along with his coverage abilities that make him a great fit in the 4-2-5 as the nickel safety. Harris a 6' 190 pounder out of Oklahoma has already amassed 124 tackles in his short career starting in 20 games before moving to his current role as the nickel back in the Kansas system. Like Strozier, Harris will look to be a stabilizing figure at the position and settle into his spot compared to last year when we saw an often jumbled secondary.
After the starters there is a tremendous amount of youthful talent at the safety spot beginning with Lubbock Smith. Smith is a 5'11" 190 pounder out of Dallas Carter high school that has been drawing praise since bowl practices last winter. He's not the biggest guy but it sounds like he has the ability to lay a hit and should see minutes this year as he prepares to possibly fill a starting role in 2010.
One of the only other experienced players on the squad at safety that isn't starting is junior Olaiton Oguntodo. Oguntodo is another one of those stories of potential that hasn't made its way to gameday. At 6' 220 pounds the Texas native has great size and would be an excellent fit in a 4-2-5 scheme as he's nearly the size of some linebackers. However, after playing in 9 games as a true freshman Oguntodo has seen limited time throughout his career.
Two freshman on the squad have some very excited to see what they will accomplish in their time at Kansas starting with Prinz Kande out of Euless Trinity in Texas. Kande's high school is one of the tops in the country and he was one of the few ever in the program to start as a freshman. At 6' 190 pounds Kande comes to Kansas one of the more highly touted recruits in the 2009 class and could very easily see minutes as a true freshman.
Another player that has some excited is Dexter Linton out of Arlington Bowie where he was teammates with Kansas quarterback Christian Matthews. Linton is another player that at 6' 190 appears physically ready for the game. Between Linton, Kande and Smith the safety position appears to be in very good hands moving forward.
The last safety on the roster is a walk on in Brian Blackwell out of Herington Kansas and for those that weren't aware Darian Kelly who was on the roster this summer at safety is no longer listed. There are mixed reports as to what is going on but it appears he has yet to recover from some high school injuries and may join the team next spring.
So there you have it, probably the most stable position going on the defensive side of the ball and with the talent waiting in the wings it may stay that way.