This week we wrap up our positional breakdowns alongside our regular game week coverage heading into the Kansas opener against South Dakota State. Today we're looking at the linebacker position and this is a spot that has experienced a significant amount of change, but most of that change has been due to players that were already on the roster.
Yes Kansas added a few players during the offseason but most of the depth chart adjustments have been players already on the roster that have stepped up and taken advantage of a new opportunity. Kansas has bodies at this position and Kansas has some flexibility. It's not a unit you look at and expect greatness from, but the potential is there to be a solid group if they can play with some aggression.
Toben Opurum - Opurum was mentioned in the defensive end breakdown and his story is well documented. He fits in the linebacker category as well because dependent on the personnel package and the game situation, he could very well be lined up as an outside linebacker bringing pressure off the edge. He's versatile, strong enough to play at the line and he still has the ability to step back or provide additional help if an opponent tries to get big and power the ball at Kansas.
- Anthony McDonald - McDonald has spent a good deal of his time this fall on the stationary bike and that is going to prevent him from being a major contributor for this defense in the near term. The Notre Dame transfer has to get healthy and then he'll have to beat out those players that have worked their way in front of him. He's more of a true middle linebacker so he doesn't fit the Big 12 as well as some, but there will be teams and situations where he can be a nice player to have but he'll need to get healthy first.
- Ben Heeney - Ben Heeney has jumped into the starters role at middle linebacker and has had an excellent fall game. He's a local talent from Hutchinson and could team up alongside Huldon Tharp to create a solid tandem of in state linebackers. Kansas has had success with that formula in the past and Heeney is a solid athlete that has really developed physically during his short time at Kansas.
- Tunde Bakare - Bakare started fall camp as the starter at the strongside linebacker position. He brings speed and an aggressive style to the position but there has been a growing buzz surrounding another player in this spot. That's not to say that Bakare won't see plenty of minutes, but it seems as though the competition is either better than expected or the position as a whole isn't looking all that promising.
- Prinz Kande - Who is that other player? Prinz Kande. Kande has been a bit of a lost soul since his arrival at Kansas. As a redshirt freshman he received some pretty high praise from Clint Bowen at safety. The staff turned over, Kande moved to linebacker and the former four star recruit has been lost ever since. He's now a junior, very similar in style and build to Bakare and there has been some buzz that he might actually leapfrog the senior for the starting minutes on Saturday. It will be interesting to see who sits on top when the final depth chart is released.
- Darius Willis - Willis has gone from the starter to a potential depth player at middle linebacker. Right now it appears that Ben Heeney has worked his way in as the starter with Schyler Miles and Anthony McDonald also in the mix. Willis was the 3rd leading tackler on the team last year so I wouldn't count him out completely, but it certainly appears that this staff has a different opinion in terms of what they want at the middle linebacker position.
- Huldon Tharp - It's hard not to get excited about seeing Tharp on a team with decent coaching again. Of course that is working under the assumption that this is indeed improved coaching as we all believe it is. Tharp was a player as a true freshman and was poorly utilized under the last staff. If he can return to form and show some progression he could be a leader and a very important piece to the defense.
- Schyler Miles - Miles is a true freshman and we can expect him to play. He was being recruited to Florida prior to Weis taking the Kansas job and he made the decision to follow Weis. This was one of the biggest freshman signings for Weis in his first class and so far he hasn't disappointed. We can expect to see him contribute early and in the future at linebacker.
- Michael Reynolds - Classify Reynolds in the same category as Opurum. He can be a very disruptive piece to Dave Campo's defense and if his spring was any indication he will be a solid piece looking toward the future. Oddly enough he's been somewhat quiet this fall but a combo of Opurum and Reynolds is a good thing to have.
- Ricky Speer - Now we start diving into the walk ons and lesser knowns. Speer is the oldest of that group and comes to Kansas via transfer from the junior college level.
- Jake Love - Love is a redshirt freshman and he's added some good weight to get up to 220 after playing safety and wrestling throughout high school. The competition is pretty stiff so it doesn't look like he'll break into the lineup on a regular basis but he could be a good special teams player and someone that could develop in the future.
- Courtney Arnick - Arnick is a freshman and a very athletic prospect at the linebacker spot but all indications are that he'll need some time to develop and add weight to his 6'2" 195 pound frame.
- Dom Bickus - Freshman from Illinois, walk on.
- Jon Shelby - Shelby was a JUCO transfer that was expected to add depth and play. He has had to leave the team for personal reasons and Weis hopes he can return. We'll see what happens.