KU will likely enter the 2011 season starting two guys at safety that were both playing offense recently. Each played a whooping two games at safety last season as well. Worried? Terrified? Apathetic? Don't be.
When it is all said and done, Keeston Terry and Bradley McDougald could possibly go down as one of the best safety tandems KU football has had. Bold statement, but if each can develop and improve from the glimpses we saw last season, KU fans have a lot to be optimistic about. Throw in a seasoned Lubbock Smith and some young talent, and there are the makings of a strong defensive backfield along with KU's talented young corners.
What worries me is depth; if the injury bug hits this unit, we will be seeing some guys who may not be ready / should not be playing Big 12 (-2) football.
Bradley McDougald - 6'1, 195 - Junior (24)
After playing the first ten games as a wide receiver and kickoff returner, McDougald was switched to safety for the last two games of the season. He played well on offense, ranking third on the team in receptions, however Gill and the staff felt he could make a bigger impact on defense. Looking back, it was a very smart move (especially when factoring in all of the talent KU has at the WR position). Bradley recorded eight tackles against Oklahoma State in his first game at safety, and followed that up with five tackles and an interception against Missouri. Not a bad debut. Bradley is currently listed as the starting strong safety.
I may be biased (what am I saying "may"), but I see McDougald turning into an All-Big 12 caliber safety. He looked like a natural at the position last year, and he has the size and speed to cover anyone. Throw in his time at WR (which should help him hang on to more interceptions and read routes) and full-time practice at the position, and I am expecting big things from the junior.
Keeston Terry - 6'2, 185 - Sophomore (9)
A Kansas City native, Keeston originally committed to Kansas as a wide receiver, but was soon moved to safety. Keeston's speed and athleticism got him on the field immediately, and he played very well as a true freshman in the team's first three games before being lost for the season due to injury. He has earned a starting spot at free safety in spring practice, and there is a lot of hype surrounding both he and McDougald.
Keeston looked very good last season, and Kansas fans have to be optimistic about his second season. He is extremely fast, has a nose for the ball, and isn't afraid to jack someone up. His father, Doug Terry played defensive back for KU and the Chiefs, so it's only natural that Keeston become an NFL caliber safety right?
Lubbock Smith - 6'0, 206 - Junior (1)
Lubbock "Texas" Smith started nine games at safety last season before missing time at the end of the year due to injury. Smith is a hard hitter and one of the best tacklers on the team. He racked up 48 tackles (good for fourth on the team) and really showed his merit in run support. Smith was a big part of KU's early upset over then-thought-as-really-good Georgia Tech.
There was talk of Lubbock playing some linebacker, which would make sense due to his tackling and run-stopping ability. As a safety, he has struggled at times in pass coverage. KU could use him as a third safety to play in more run-support /blitzing situations (similar to how the Dallas Cowboys used Roy Williams recently). Interestingly, Lubbock is currently listed behind Terry at free safety, even though he seems like a better fit for strong safety. No matter what his role is, I would expect Lubbock to contribute.
Ray Mitchell - 6'1, 183 - RS Freshman (40)
Ray redshirted last year, but he was busy in KU's practices. He earned the distinction of "compete team special teams player of the year" and also picked up "compete team defensive player of the week" during the weeks of the Baylor and Kansas State games.
Ray cracked the spring two deep behind McDougald, and could see the field soon if there is an injury. Not sure what to expect from Mitchell or if he is ready, but he appears to be doing all the right things in practice, and you have to like the praise he has gotten from the coaching staff.
Brandon Hawks - 5'10, 189 - Junior (43)
The birdman joined the team as a walk on in the 2008 season, and hasn't really seen much action. The only time he got some playing time last season was a few plays on special teams.
Brandon will likely only see the field on special teams or if someone gets hurt, but his time in the program is valuable. If he sees the field in an emergency situation, at least he has some seasoning.
Tyler Hill - 6'0, 200 - Junior (18)
Tyler is a transfer from nearby Washburn and is a bit of an unknown commodity (so much so that KU athletics didn't even have his height listed). He put up big numbers in high school at Lee's Summit, which lead to first team all-league and all-district honors.
Five Questions Entering Spring Practice:
1) Can Keeston Terry stay healthy? As a true freshman last year, he looked like the real deal. Hopefully his injury wasn't a sign of things to come.
2) What role will Lubbock Smith play? Texas had been mentioned as a possible linebacker candidate, and then found himself listed as the third safety in the depth chart. With such little depth, KU likely needs to keep him at safety.
3) Is Ray Mitchell ready to contribute? The RS Freshman looked the part in practice, but you never know how a guy will react until its game time. If Keeston, McDougald or Smith goes down, Mitchell will be playing a lot. He will probably play a lot anyways.
4) What will KU's nickel and dime packages look like? Will the Jayhawks bring in another corner or safety for its 5-6 defensive back looks? My guess is CB Isiah Barfield plays the nickel, but you never know.
5) Brandon Hawks? Tyler Hill? Will either of these guys get any PT? Better yet, if someone gets hurt, are they ready?
McDougald and Terry are the real deal. They looked good in action last year, and all reports from the coaches and media indicate that both are going to live up to the four star rankings they received in high school. Unfortunately, there isn't a ton of depth here. Lubbock Smith is a great run-stopping safety and will play, however Ray Mitchell has yet to see the field. Remain hopeful that McDougald and Terry keep progressing and live up to their hype... and pray that they don't get hurt.