Even after upgrading the safeties, mainly through the unquantifiable experience category, our secondary will still be among the worst in the Big 12 unless the corners improve their game as well. Namely, I'm talking about JUCO recruit Kendrick Harper who is slated to start opposite Aqib Talib.
As previously mentioned in the depressing safety preview, our passing defense was the worst in the Big 12 by almost 36 yards a game. That is a helluva lot, especially considering we had what some consider one of the best cornerbacks in the NCAA playing everyday. However, cornerback (quite possibly more than any other position on the field) requires two skilled athletes, for quarterbacks (especially talented ones) can simply target the less-than-stellar CB play after play. The main starter opposite Talib, true sophomore Anthony Webb, made 9 starts and while picking off 3 passes and batting down 6 others, was continually beat on deep routes. Continually. However, besides the problems with the long balls Webb played a passable corner and only figures to improve with that vaunted 'year of experience'. Assorted seniors saw the rest of the action at cornerback, meaning only Aqib Talib and Anthony Webb will have played a single down at the NCAA level at cornerback by the time September 1st rolls around which isn't a good sign.
Already mentioning Talib and Webb, there is only one other name to return at the cornerback position. Gary Green. After spending his first two season (one of them redshirting) as a backup running back, last year he made the transition to cornerback to be a backup this season.
After last year's struggles, it was quite clear that some new blood was needed. So Mangino went out and got both immediate help in the form of Kendrick Harper, a JUCO transfer, and longterm help in the form of Isiah Barfield. While Barfield, a little heralded recruit from Haven, Kansas, will require time to learn the position of cornerback after playing running back and wide receiver in high school, he has the athletic ability to do it and could be a factor as early as next season.
Where Does Everybody Fit In?
Harper, a Big 12-ready cornerback after spending 2 years at Butler County Community College, is now out 4-6 weeks with an "unspecified injury". While slated to be the starter, Harper will likely now be absent for at least the two opening games against Central Michigan and Southeastern Louisiana, meaning an open competition between Anthony Webb and Gary Green is now on to start opposite Aqib Talib. Whoever is the winner figures to be picked on in both games, especially in the opener by Dan LeFevour. Most likely Webb will emerge, he has both more experience at the cornerback position and more natural skills. However, it will be somewhat disappointing that, after such an abysmal passing defense last season, the starting cornerbacks will remain the same with only an "extra year of experience" supposed to make us feel better. Still, Anthony most likely did improve and mature this offseason, meaning I will have to at least see him play before I declare our passing offense to be as bad as last year. Hopefully Harper can come back as soon as possible, but I also hope that Webb steps up his play and claims the starting job. That would allow Harper to ease into a role on this team by starting out at nickelback before taking over for Talib after this season.
2008 Depth Chart:
1) Aqib Talib, RS Jr.
2) Kendrick Harper, Jr.
3) Anthony Webb, Soph.
4) Gary Green, Jr.
Next Up: The Linebacking Corps
UPDATE: Apparently, Chris Harris is leading the way to start opposite Aqib Talib. He is a true freshman and played both ways in High School, leading the folks at KU Athletics to label him a wide out. However, according to the end of this KC Star article (more on the QB situation later today), Harris is the front-runner.