Oh, hey, whaddya know? Aqib Talib is gone. I know, his departure to the NFL has gone relatively unnoticed, as he wasn't that good anyways, wasn't even taken in the NFL Draft, and has been completley out of the news thus far in his NFL career, both on the field and off of it. Oh, you're saying that you knew he was gone? To what team? The Bucs? For real?
After that heavy helping of sarcasm, with the droplets sopping off the paragraph, it's time to get down to the real question hiden inside that mess of jokes: how will we replace Aqib? Of all of the holes left to fill, cornerback is generally accepted at being "filled", with two returning starters at the position, as both Chris Harris and Kendrick Harper started some games. Depth is an issue (the two reserves are a redshirt freshman and a true freshman), making the nickel package a little dicey, but the starting duo should be more than capable of manning down the fort. As large of a man-crush I have on Chris Harris, he isn't even the best all-around CB on this team; that title would have to go to last season's JUCO transfer, Kendrick Harper. The future looks bright as well, as everyone on the two-deep save Harper is a freshman or sophomore, and even more youngsters in Greg Brown and incoming recruits Dexter Linton and Tyler Patmon.
With all of that said, here is a look at the three year depth chart:
|CB1||Kendrick Harper (SR)||Chris Harris (JR)||Chris Harris (SR)|
|CB2||Chris Harris (SO)||Isiah Barfield (rsSO)||Isiah Barfield (rsJR)|
|CB3||Isiah Barifled (rsFR)||Corrigan Powell (SO)||Corrigan Powell (JR)|
|CB4||Corrigan Powell (FR)||Ryan Muprhy (rsJR)||Ryan Murphy (rsSR)|
|CB5||Ryan Murphy (rsSO)||Greg Brown (rsFR)||Greg Brown (rsSO)|
|CB6||Greg Brown (FR)||EMPTY||EMPTY|
--- Italics denote projected redshirt year
--- Bold denotes EMPTY spot on depth chart
Just to make things clear, when I say that a spot is "EMPTY" on the depth chart, that doesn't mean the coaching staff has no answer for said spot. They have obviously looked at our team and as it will progress over time, and know what to recruit. Also, in nearly every position preview I have left off a couple of walk-on types who would be boring to go over, but who could easily fill in as the sixth CB, for example.
As far as the actual depth chart goes, it shows just how much youth we have at the position. After Harper's graduation following this season, we will have the same CB core (save incoming recruits and potential early NFL defections/transfers) for two entire years, from top-to-bottom. That is pretty impressive. A bunch of talent, as well, as Harris, Barfield and Powell all have chances to be really special, particularly the first two. Not to mention Greg Brown, who was more highly recruited coming out of HS than Corrigan was.
Player-by-player previews after the jump...
Kendrick Harper :: #24 :: SR : CB1
Last season, his first at Kansas after spending two years at Butler County Community, College started out so promising for Harper. He was all-but-announced as the starter heading into last year's season opener, but a shoulder injury kept him out of the first four games. He started to make some cameo appearances against Kansas State, where on on one of his first snaps as a Kansas Jayhawk he picked off Josh Freeman, aka J-Free, to most-likely clinch the game (they got the ball back, of course, which led to the official game-clinching pick by Aqib Talib). However, upon his return, he discoverd, along with the rest of the Kansas fanbase, just how good this true freshman Chris Harris was, and he wasn't immediately granted a starting slot. His more-consistent play led to his re-promotion up to starter a few games later, including a fantastic game against Texas A&M, only for him to get injured. Again. He missed the Missouri game, another injury that no doubt hampered our team big time.
But now, he is completely healthy. He will have to, if he is going to fill Aqib Talib's shoes. Of course, the vast majority of the task to fill Talib's shoes has seemed to fall on Chris Harris, the "heir apparent" to the King CB title, and the supposed next receiver of the #3. Of course, Jocques Crawford came in from JUCO and swooped in to nab that prestigous number, but the effort means all the same; they thought enough of Harris to seriously consider him donning Charles Gordon's and Aqib Talib's number. #3. And because of all this faith in Harris, Harper's more consistent play has gone largely unnoticed. Despite this, he is still the better cornerback of the two, and has All-Big 12 written all over him. That is, if he can actually stay healthy.
Chris Harris :: #16 :: SO :: CB2
Chris Harris is flashy. Flashy in a good way. He is the technique kinda corner, the guy who makes the ridiculous INT with nary a fingertip touching the too-close-for-comfort WR. Kind of like Deion, only like fourteen notches down. And no, he is not a WR (as SB Nation's roster suggests he is).
In a lot of ways, from his height (6'0" to Talib's 6'2") to his freakish athletic ability, he is essentially a poor-man's Aqib Talib. And that is right now; wait until the kid is a Junior and Senior. He will likely never be as good of a collegiate, or NFL, player as Aqib Talib, but he has a chance to be nearly as good, as he is just below Aqib's level in just about everything. Neither is a good tackler. Harris isn't horrible, just like Talib, but he isn't going to be mistaken for a LB, either. Honestly, the two even look alike on the field, where without skin color and names/numbers on the back of jerseys, it would be near impossible to tell them apart from that camera they show you on TV.
Not as good, yet, but looks the same. Yeah, you can see why he is being depended upon to take the brunt of Talib's gargantuan production lost.
Isiah Barfield :: #29 :: rsFR :: CB3
Last year, while the season was winding down and the Jayhawks were preparing to play Virginia Tech, a newspaper had a nice little feature about Mr. Barfield. I can't remember if it was the Topeka Capital Journal or the Wichita Eagle (it certainly wasn't the "I don't like covering football" LJW), but it contained a nice, little handful-line quote from Aqib Talib himself, the King of Kansas CBs. And of course, this little tidbit should be taken with a ginormous grain of salt, as of course players are going to say good things about teammates (usually), for multiple reasons. But Talib said that Barfield reminded him a lot of...himself.
Now, Barfield is pretty tall for a corner (6'0"), but he is much skinnier than both Harris and Talib, so he doesn't appear to be as physically dominant. I haven't seen him play, but the practice reports don't seem to convey him as a finesse-type corner like Talib and Harris. And, when I say finesse, I don't actually mean scared of physicality. It is more just using talent (speed, jumping, long reach, etc) to get the desire result (batted down pass/INT) as opposed to good technique. I suppose that definition shouldn't be finesse, but whatevs. In any case, with the style of play being different, Talib seemed to be talking about one thing.
That pesky little "it" that QBs have to have, or the team will die, but the for the rest of the team it is almost treated as completely optional. I'm all for subscribing to the QB-is-the-most-important-positon-on-the-field argument, bu do they really have to possess a quality that the other positions don't? Besides stuff having to do with throwing a football? Talib certainly has "it", that innate confidence (or cockiness, if you are old and grumpy and don't like some good-natured trash talking) that enables him to supercede his already-tremendous talent. And, the one thing that has stuck with me from that article is that Talib, in different words, essentially concluded that Barfield had "it". I've been sold ever since, and am expecting big things from Barfield next season when he is likely handed the starting CB job opposite Harris. However, he also needs to show up in a big way this year, as there are so many pass-heavy teams on our schedule (South Florida, Texas Tech, Missouri) that he will see plenty of field-time. Plenty.
Corrigan Powell :: #35 :: FR :: CB4
I know, according to me, there has been like five "The Surprise of Camp", but add to the tally, as Corrigan's ascension to likely-redshirt to on the two-deep came completely out of the blue to me. I mean, sure, I figured he and Greg Brown would both have a decent chance at being pretty good at some point in their career, but I thought both would be guaranteed redshirts this year. Of course, a big reason why he is on the two-depth is the incredible lack of depth in the corners, but still. He is going to be important against the all-aerial, all-the-time assaults of Mizzou and Tech, so hopefully he is all good-to-go by the time those games roll around.
He is another short guy, standing at only 5'10", and is pretty quick. Based off of his fall performance, he stands a chance at cracking the starting lineup at some point in his career, but I don't see it. And that, just like him not being redshirted this year, has as much (if not more) to do with the other players on the roster than him. I think that both Harris and Barfield are going to be insanely amazing, which would leave Corrigan all of one year to start, and by then he would have to battle it out for the position with Brown, Dexter Linton and Ryan Patmon. Not impossible, and that is in the "worst case" for Corrigan, but still.
Ryan Murphy :: #23 : rsSO :: CB5
Ryan Murphy was the hands-down star in high school, playing QB, CB and punt returner. Upon coming to Kansas, his prospects were largely speculated to be between WR and CB, where the coaching staff chose WR as his future destination. However, after a couple of relatively failed years trying to work out at the slot, he moved this spring over to CB, a more natural position for him and, hopefully, where he will be better off in the future. He is incredibly athletic, and that alone is enough qualification for being a 5th CB, but he has room to grow, having only played this position at the collegiate level for a couple of months. His chances of navigating his way to the top of the depth chart don't look good, but he could easily become a member of the CB rotation (as early as this season, especially if someone goes down with an injury) with a couple of really good weeks in practice.
Greg Brown :: #27 :: FR :: CB6
True freshman. Isn't going to see the light of day this season; an obvious redshirt. More on him this offseason and this year, if need-be. Going into fall, I considered him and Corrigan to be on the same level. Obviously not.
Next Up: Safeties
On Deck: Special Teams Units
I'm almost done with these Position Previews. They've been a lot of fun to do, but I obviously need to get started like two weeks earlier, so we could have spent more time this week discussing Florida International. Y'know, our opponent this week? In any case, can't believe football is actually back and Kansas is going to play a game tomorrow. Wow. Hopefully I can find radio.