If we had a non-special teams weakness last season, it would have to be the defensive ends. Russell Brorsen and John Larson are fine players, sure, and they did their role, but the pass rush always had to come from the middle and James McClinton. Brorsen and Larson were virtually non-existent in rushing the passer. And so, Mangino has made it a priority to recruit some speed-rushers, people who can actually get the quarterback on hia ass.
So, I think this position will be much improved this season. Not as good as it will be next year, when the current crop of speed rushers has another year of development and incoming defensive ends Kevin Young and Tyrone Sellers come in. They are both legitimate speed-rushers, quite possibly some of the better ones in the history of Kansas football.
For the time-being, however, the defensive end situation is interesting. You have the returning starters, Larson and Brorsen, who are solid, dependable, veteran, smart footall players who don't have a whole lot in the way of athleticism or pass-rushing ability (particularly Larson). Then you have their reserves, more athletic, pass-rushing types who will be more inconsistent with Wheeler (who just may start instead of Larson; on the depth chart, they are both listed as potential starters), Laptad and Onyegbule. And then you have the two freshmen, two kids who have incredibly bright futures, although Zlatnik, who has since bumped up to 303 pounds, might have his future at D-Tackle. Both are going to redshirt this season, but both could also be starters in the future; Zlatnik as more a run-stuffing DE and Marshall being the speed-rusher around the edge. That isn't even getting into the incoming recruits in Sellers and Young, who are both more-recruited prospects than Marshall and Zlatnik were, especially Kevin Young.
With all of that said, here is the depth chart over the next three years:
|Russell Brorsen (SR)
|Jeff Wheeler (rsSR)
|Max Onyegbule (rsSR)
|Jeff Wheeler (rsJR)
|Max Onyegbule (rsJR)
|Jake Laptad (SR)
|John Larson (rsSR)
|Jake Laptad (JR)
|D.J. Marshall (rsSO)
|Max Onyegbule (rsSO)
|D.J. Marshall (rsFR)
|Duane Zlatnik (rsSO)
|Jake Laptad (SO)
|Duane Zlatnik (rsFR)
|Kevin Young (rsFR)
|D.J. Marshall (FR)
|Kevin Young (FR)
|Tyrone Sellers (rsFR)
|Duane Zlatnik (FR)
|Tyrone Sellers (FR)
--- Italics denote projected redshirt year
--- Bold denotes EMPTY space on depth chart
Just to make things clear, I'm not predicting, not by any means, that Marshall and Zlatnik will, for sure, be ahead of Young and Sellers in 2010, for example. However, unless I am incredibly confident in something happening or someone's talent, I'm not going to predict someone jumping someone else on the depth chart. This isn't intended to be a "depth chart" in that way, per se, but instead just a overlook at the talent we will have over the next three years.
Player-by-player previews after the jump...
Russell Brorsen :: #81 :: rsSR :: DE1
Russell Brorsen is intelligent. Russell Brorsen does everything asked of him on the football field. Russell Brorsen rarely disappoints, and is a very consistent football player.
Amidst all of the things that Russell Brorsen is, there is one thing he is definitevly not: a pass rusher. I mean, he'll get there occasionally, like in the Orange Bowl, and wouldn't be half-bad as the "run-stuffing" DE of the duo, mostly responsible for staying in his lane as opposed to terrorizing up the field to get to the quarterback. However, last season he started opposite John Larson. And Larson, as we'll get into later, is the furthest thing from a pass-rusher a defensive end can be. Larson was excellent at doing his job of stuffing the running lanes, but he couldn't have been any worse at getting to the quarterback.
Still, despite his mere averageness of pass-rushing abilities, he is a fine starter, at least for one more season before the more athletic, talented pass rushers can get some more experience. While players like Brorsen and Larson, Mayes and Hartley all have their place on a team, they hopefully won't be as crucial to future teams' succes. Because, that means that more talented, more athletic players will be starting instead. No matter how good you think the filler-types like Brorsen are, you can't argue that that is a bad thing.
Not a whole lot of big things should be expected from Russell this season, but simply more of the same, consistent production he has given throughout the majority of his Kansas career. Not a special player, but a perfectly good enough player to fill in for a couple of years while we wait for Marshall, Zlatnik and Onyegbule to further develop.
Jeff Wheeler :: #84 :: rsJR :: DE2
One of those speed rusher types who has seemed to have finally "gotten it" would appear to be Jeff Wheeler, who after three years spent mostly as a situational pass-rusher, sent in only in obvious pass situations, now seems to have taken a hold of the starting job opposite Brorsen. It isn't official yet, as both he and Larson are listed as potential starters, but I seriously doubt that Larson is the starter. Wheeler is a much better pass-rusher, and with the defensive tackles likely to be better run-stuffers than pass-rushers, we could really use the outside force. In fact, we need it.
If Larson is the starter, again, there will be virtually zero chance of us ever reaching the QB on 1st and 2nd down. Those aren't good odds. And while it would be nice to be able to start a pure, Dwight Freeney-type speed-rusher, Mangino isn't willing to sacrifice the lack of run support. Right or wrong, it doesn't seem likely for us to sacrifice stopping the run for getting to the QB. That is why, if there is to be no Onyegbule or Marshall, there at least has to be Wheeler, to form some semblance of a pass-rush. It is a must.
John Larson :: #87 :: rsSR :: DE3
I really like John Larson. Honestly, I do. However, he, under no circumstances, should start. He simply isn't productive enough; not a good enough pass rusher. He works fine as a backup, a career reserve, a potential injury replacement. As a starter? Not so much. At least for me.
He is tremendous at some things, like staying in his running lane and gaining leverage on the blocker. He is not, however, good at getting to the QB. And, as I have harped on already, we need a pass-rush. For shiz. It needs to happen. And, as much as I like the guy, it ain't happening with Larson.
He deserves a place on this team, for sure. But a starting DE while the other starter isn't a tremendous pass-rusher? No thanks.
Jake Laptad :: #91 :: SO :: DE4
Last season, as a true freshman, Jake Laptad came out of near obscurity to come in and become an immediate-impact player as a speed-rusher off the edge. He is still a year away from truly competing for a starting job, but he could very well be the favorite to replace Brorsen next season. He had moments where he looked nearly unblockable coming around the edge, and he figures to be a more complete, all-around defensive end as opposed to Onyegbule and DJ Marshall, for instance.
This year, he will likely serve an incredibly similar role to last season; to be a situational pass-rusher on obvious passing situations, but otherwise spend most of his time on the bench. Next year, though, he just may be a three-down starter. Just maybe.
Max Onyegbule :: #47 :: rsSO :: DE5
Entering this offseason, it was thought to be a distinct possibility that Onyegbule (which is a terribly fun name to say, by the way) would earn himself a starting spot this fall. Of course, it didn't quite work out like that, as Onyegbule is not only not a starter, it is now apparent that he is way down on the depth chart; couldn't even crack the two-deep. That is a far cry from being a starter. What is most frustrating is that his potential is through the roof; he could be an incredible pass-rusher from the outside. Yet, for whatever reason, he hasn't seemed to be able to put it all together. He still has plenty of time to make the trek back up the depth chart, but it is somewhat depressing that Onyegbule has never been able to put it all together. Of course, he will also likely be a member of the defense on obvious passing situations and could still rack up a handful of sacks. He has untapped potential in pass-rushing situations, but he will have to become an all-around DE and be able to stuff the run, the way Mangino likes it, before he will see significant, three-down minutes.
D.J. Marshall :: #95 :: FR :: DE6
D.J. Marshall is already a beast coming around the corner. He is already, or at least coule already be, a legitimate pass-rushing threat. He reminds me a lot of Jake Laptad, although he is 20 pounds lighter, and could probably stand to use a redshirt year a lot more than Laptad did. And he will get one.
He has a really bright future, at the very least, as a tremendous pass-rushing specialist, and is already further along in the run defense department than a player like Onyegbule. However, he still could be relegated to simply pass-rusher status, all being dependent on the other talent around him.
Duane Zlatnik :: #55 :: FR :: DE7
One of the commits from the Class fo 2008 I am most excited about is Zlatnik. A high school wrestler, he has tremendous body control and all that jazz from his wrestling days. Plus, while not having the best first step in the world, he could be a decent pass-rusher off the outside as well. He is more of an all-around, complete, three-down defensive lineman, and while he could really use this redshirt year, I wouldn't be surprised were he to start as early as next season. He has a chance to be an absolutely excellent defensive end.
Plus, he has already muscled up to over 300 pounds, and he could potentially move over to DT. In any case, he will start at one of the positions some time in the relatively near future.
Next Up: Defensive Tackles
On Deck: Linebackers