Week two of camp and week two of our positional previews. We'll continue this week by kicking things off with a look at a position that many feel might be in a real position of strength for 2009, defensive tackle. Last year the Jayhawks were in a little bit of a pinch with this one in terms of depth with the departure of James McClinton as well as Todd Haselhorst. McClinton was lost to graduation and had he physically been a more prototypical size he certainly would have been playing on Sundays.
Last season Caleb Blakesly stepped into a starting leadership role with this unit while Richard Johnson Jr. assumed the role of the smaller, quicker guy in middle. Throw in the rotation Jamal Greene and Darius Parish and the unit was fairly stout against the run but didn't really pose a huge threat in terms of flipping the line of scrimmage. Parish has since moved to the offensive line but this group has added some potentially potent weapons to it's arsenol and may be looking at providing the depth and effectiveness that will vastly improve the Kansas defense.
Looking at the starters it's tough to say if anyone is a clear cut leader. I'f you had to pick though at the moment I'd think the day one starters will be the same as last year in Blakesly and Johnson Jr.
Caleb Blakesly is a a 6'5" 298 pound senior who has started in 23 games over the last two years including 13 during the 2007 season. Blakesly earned honorable mention all Big 12 honors as a junior making 22 solo tackles and providing for a stout front throughout the season.
Richard Johnson Jr. was a player who looked very promising early on drawing some comparisons to James McClinton with his quickness off the ball and ability to get to the backfield. An injury slowed things a bit but he still had a solid season. Standing 6'2 281 pounds Johnson is certainly not a monster in the middle but started the first 8 recording 13 solo stops with 2 sacks on the year and being names to Phil Steele's freshman all american 3rd team. Johnson was also the scout team player of the year in 2007 during his redshirt year.
While the competition looks to be stiff and there are certainly challengers, these two could well find themselves back in the saddle as the two middle men in the trenches.
Complete Positional Breakdown After the Jump...Moving on to the contenders at the position and there are a few of them that will be pushing for time from the get go.
First off is Kansas City product in junior Jamal Greene. Greene is a redshirt junior and stands 6'4" 300 pounds. His size has had Kansas fans hopeful from the get go and reaching his potential could be huge for this unit. Greene showed a lot of the potential in filling in as the starter due to nagging injuries to both Blakesly and Johnson last year. Greene finished the year with 21 tackles 2 sacks and recorded 4 tackles in each game against Kansas' most difficult opponents in Texas and Oklahoma. That time filling in has many feeling more confident in terms of depth this year versus the beginning of last year when everyone but Blakesly was a bit of a question mark.
The next guy that we'll preview is one that has been receiving a lot of attention ever since arriving on campus last year, at least from those who follow recruiting closely. Duane Zlatnik didn't necessarily jump of the page at you but his commitment to play Kansas football was always looked at as a great pickup. Zlatnik came in as a 6'4" 260 pound defensive end that was also a state champion wrestler. One redshirt year and 40 pounds heavier, the leverage that he learned as a top tier wrestler is helping him turn some heads as a defensive tackle. There obviously isn't any game situation that tells us the Zlatnik is ready, but if early reports are accurate he'll definitely push for staring minutes before it's all said and done.
Another name that has been around the program is 6' 275 pound sophomore Patrick Dorsey. Dorsey comes out of Houston Texas and is another one of those undersized tackles that Kansas likes because they are low, quick and get into the backfield. Dorsey ran with the first unit during the spring game and while he has yet to make a splash on gameday it sounds like he might push for minutes in the rotation.
A new face to the Jayhawks interior defensive line is junior college transfer Travis Stephens. Stephens has played both end and tackle at Blinn Community College in Texas but will likely be looked to for depth at the tackle spot for the Jayhawks. Stephens measures 6'3 262 pounds but after arriving on campus in July he has turned some heads in early practices. If his junior college time is any indication of his ability to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage Stephens recorded 10 sacks and 29 tackles for a loss.
One last name who is also a newcomer and in that tweener mold is Randall Dent. There has been talk of him as a tackle and an end but I think based on the fact that he already stands 6'4 280 pounds I'll preview him as a tackle. Dent was a two time all state selection in the state of Texas and during his career recorded 121 tackles 21 sacks and 25 tackles for a loss.
So that wraps up the defensive tackles spot and with 7 on the roster there are likely 6 legitimate potential players as I would expect Dent will reshirt. I'd guess a rotation of six might be out of the question, but having the option and ability to go six deep makes this an area of strength. My guess would be we'll see a pretty healthy dose of Blakesly, Johnson, Zlatnik, Green and Stephens throughout the year, keeping fresh legs and rested bodies going after opposing offenses in the middle.