Next Up: Defensive Backfield 12PM CST
Linebacker, like the defenisve line, was painfully thin for Kansas a season ago. An early season injury to sophomore Huldon Tharp meant that for the most part Justin Springer, Drew Dudley and Steven Johnson were going to be seeing the field for the majority of the minutes.
While all three played admirably it's tough to be on the field that long and even tougher in the Big 12 where you spend most of your time chasing guys have your size that run just a little bit quicker. Dudley and Springer are now gone, although Springer has stayed on as part of the strength staff from what I understand. Johnson returns as does Tharp and a transfer in Darius Willis becomes eligible.
Willis is said to be the real deal in the middle. Johnson and Tharp should compete on the outside. Throw in moves by Lubbock Smith and Prinz Kande to Linebacker and any development by Chea Peterman, Josh Richardson, Ed Fink or Jake Farley and there might just be the makings of a rotation.
That brings us to the recruiting class and while most positions at Kansas you'd hope to see the incoming talent redshirt. This might be one where some of that talent redshirts but one player is hoping to see the field from the start.
Collin Garrett - OLB - 6'1" 205
Breakdown: In the Big 12 it's imprtant to have linebackers that can move. That's exactly what Collin Garrett does. His biggest strengths are his speed, ability to cover sideline to sideline and his instincts at the position. That's what the recruiting services say, I asked Garrett what he thinks:
I'm physical, fast, and I play with alot of energy
I also asked Garrett what attracted him to Kansas and the answer was simple.
They told me I have a chance to play early. Turner Gill and the staff are people who know what they're talking about and it's just fun to talk to them about football. Plus when I went on my visit I just fell in love with it.
Question Marks: The only question surrounding Garrett is his size. He doesn't possess ideal size, but then again that's probably why he's at Kansas and not Texas. He's a player and he'll be able to overcome that with some of his other abilities.
Jason Hensley - LB - 6'2" 222
Breakdown: Hensley reminds people a little bit of Ed Fink. Fink was a football player, good instincts, more your traditional linebacker. That's probably where Hensley fits. Hensley might even have a future at end if any position changes do occur but most likely he'll start out in the middle. He's aggressive, attacks downhill and has good size for the position at the division one level.
Question Marks: Agility is better suited for the interior so it will be interesting to see what direction the Big 12 goes in terms of offensive trends and how Hensley matches up with that. Hensley is also coming off a year where he sustained a leg injury. It is expected to be fully healed, but it's always something to keep in the back of your mind.
Tunde Bakare - OLB - 6' 220 4.4 Forty(Junior College)
Breakdown: If you had to pick a player in the class most likely to play right away it's Bakare. Bakare played the safety/nickel spot at Highland CC the past two years and projects in that role or a more traditional OLB role with Kansas. It's a position that the Jayhawks needed more speed and agility at and Bakare provides it. Throw in the fact that he can bring a big hit and some intimidation to the field and Bakare begins to give the Jayhawks the makings of an actual rotation at linebacker.
Question Marks: Well he's a JUCO player, and we all know our recent run of JUCO. Hopefully Bakare can swing the momentum back to the days when we landed impact JUCO players.
Jake Love - OLB - 6' 200 4.55 Forty
Breakdown: Love actually played running back and safety at the high school level and he was also a state championship level wrestler. The belief is that he can add some weight and be a solid outside linebacking prospect in much the same way that Huldon Tharp is. During his senior season Love ran for over 2800 yards and 46 touchdowns while recording 123 tackles on defense. He's an athlete and has good speed for the position at the next level.
Question Marks: It's his size. He just needs to add good weight and keep his speed which is one of his biggest assets. Again, he's been a wrestler so that often is a sport where you intentionally keep your weight down. Now he hits a division one training progam and most likely that's an easy issue to address.
Ben Heeney - OLB - 6'1" 200
Breakdown: Heeney is another in the Jake Love mold where he played safety and running back at the high school level but projects as an athletic outside linebacker in college. At least in what the Big 12 conference has become. The best part about Heeney might be that he's wanted to be a Jayhawk from DAY ONE. There were times it looked as though he wouldn't get an offer but he pretty much pulled the trigger the second one was extended. As a senior Heeney rushed for over 2000 yards and 39 touchdowns for Hutchinson.
Question Marks: Again it's just a matter of size. Heeney would ideally carry a little more weight for the OLB position and he'll have every opportunity in the world to do that at Kansas. Good pickup, good Kansas program and a devoted Jayhawk.