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RCT Spring Football Preview: The Defense

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Note: There will be an open thread tonight for the basketball games for those interested.

Basketball wrapped up a little early this season and after some brief looking back at the what if's, why's and how's of the untimely departure from the tournament, it's time to shift our focus.  Spring football kicks off this Saturday and Turner Gill will finally take to the practice field with the Jayhawks.  Spring football will provide an opportunity for players to settle into a new way of doing things, a new offensive and defensive mindset and for many players it presents a fresh start.

Today we begin with a preview of the defensive side of the ball.  The Kansas defense was nothing to write home about during the disappointing season of 2009.  The Jayhawks ranked 76th in the country in total defense and 85th in scoring defense.  When the high octane offense of the Jayhawks sputtered in 2009, the defense wasn't enough to lighten the load and the result was a 5-7 season wrapping up with 7 straight losses. 

Heading into spring 2010, there are still plenty of question marks.  The defensive struggles are far from a quick fix but potentially a fresh start and a renewed hope for many can at least bring this group along enough to be competitive.  Turner Gill's offense could very well help this group out as well, but today we look at who's involved, where the questions are and who might emerge from spring ball with an edge headed into the fall.

Here's the plan...position by position we'll run through the players on campus TODAY.  Those who aren't participating in spring ball will be previewed but when it comes to our "spring starter predictions"(we had a little help with these projections from a couple team members) those players aren't going to be in the mix. 

Also we'll touch on the incoming freshman but for the most part the focus here is on the players who are participating in practices beginning Saturday.  The reality is, a major division one football program doesn't want to be relying on those freshman to come in and make an instant impact anyway.  It happens, but it's not the focus today.

Defensive Ends

Might as well kick things off  with one of the most critical positions on the field for any defense looking to compete in the Big 12 and that's defensive end.  With the pass happy spread offenses of the Big 12, you need a pass rush.  The teams that are able to limit and most effectively defend are able to get to the quarterback off the edge.  For Kansas there are truly only a few involved at this position which does raise concern.  How those few respond will be critical for 2010.

Jake Laptad (will not be participating in spring practices)

Jake Laptad has been a steady contributor at the defensive end spot for the better part of two seasons.  Standing 6'5" 260, Laptad brings the right size to the position and has enough speed to be disruptive.  Is he a game changer? no.  Can he be the Jayhawks best option at the position, probably.  He'll be a proven senior and a leader on the team in 2010 and sometimes that goes a long way.

Quinton Woods

Woods is built in the mold of an impact end.  He stands 6'5" 240 and brings great speed of the edge.  Woods was a player that brought with him some pretty high expectations in 2009, but as is often the case the adjustment from junior college competition to the Big 12 is a gradual climb instead of a leap.  By the end of the season Woods was definitely beginning to show progress and all reports from the offseason are that he is becoming comfortable with the team, settled into the program and could be a starter in 2010.

Kevin Young

Kevin as we all know took a redshirt in 2009 and I think long term it's a decision that Kansas fans are going to be very happy with.  Young has bulked up to his ideal playing weight and is entering his second year of spring ball after joining Kansas as a mid year grad last spring.  He's physically prepared, performed very well as a scout team player in 2009 and Young should be in a great position to push for a starting role and if not he'll be a major factor in the end rotation. 

Tyrone Sellers

After a move to linebacker and then tight end in 2009 it appears we may see Sellers back in the mix at end in 2010.  If he's able to add the bulk needed he could play a factor but there are obviously a tremendous amount of questions here based on his bouncing around during his redshirt season.  Sellers is hungry to prove he can play on the defensive side and this isn't a knock on him, but I'm sure his development took a step back with the inconsistencies in position focus during the 2009 season.

Wildcards/Freshman

DJ Marshall - will he play? Pat Lewandowski, Jaqwaylin Arps and Keba Aghostino

Prognosis and "Spring Starter" projections
  • End is definitely a big area of concern for 2010.  If Young and Woods have progressed as they have been rumored to the Jayhawks still only have three ends with any experience at the division one level.  After that Kansas will be looking to either Sellers, a return of DJ Marshall or a true freshman for spot minutes.  
  • Spring Starters: Kevin Young and Quinton Woods(there's just no other option on this one)

Defensive Tackle

The interior d-line is almost the opposite of the end position for Kansas.  They have experience, depth and options.  If Kansas can find a rotation to plug up the middle and limit running lanes it could be huge in masking a problem that likely still exists at linebacker.  If they can find a way to get pressure up the middle too, well...the Jayhawks would have to consider themselves very fortunate.

John Williams(will not be participating in spring practice)

Big John Williams made the move to defensive tackle mid season last year.  He's a bulldozing type tackle that should benefit from a year focusing on the position since last year's move found him switching sides of the ball mid year.  He's big, he's strong, he get's a push on the line of scrimmage.  Improved technique and awareness for Big John and he can be a player.

Jamal Greene

Greene is at times the best looking defensive tackle on the team.  There are moments when no one on the field can stop him and then there are moments where he stops himself.  Greene has great size, explosion and like Williams he has the ability to change the line of scrimmage.  Greene is a guy that can benefit tremendously from the fresh start as he was not in the good graces of Mark Mangino.  One last chance for the Kansas City native, and if he chooses to capitalize, he'll be a starter.

Richard Johnson Jr.

Johnson Jr is a little undersized but has been in the mix on the Kansas front line since his redshirt freshman year.  He'll certainly play a factor in the rotation as he's a consistent player even though he may not be regarded as the player with the highest ceiling.

Darius Parish

I'm hearing that Parish has moved back to the defensive side of the ball.  Other outlets aren't reporting this so perhaps it's still in question.  If Parish does make the move he's very much in the mold of Williams or Greene.  He's a mountain of a man and even as a true freshman was able to get a push up front including a memorable goal line stand in the Insight Bowl.  For my money, this is a good first move by the staff to get him back on the defensive side of the ball.

Wildcards/Freshman

Pat Dorsey, Randall Dent, Travis Stephens, Jeremiah Edwards

Prognosis and "Spring Starter" projections
  • Kansas has a solid rotation of players at their disposal on the defensive interior.  What stands out more is the size potential with Parish, Greene and Williams.  This could be a very good rotation for stuffing the run and if they are able to find a way to consistently change the line of scrimmage, this could help the Kansas defense tremendously.
  • Spring Starters: Jamal Greene and Richard Johnson Jr.

Linebacker

This was a major weakness for the Jayhawks in 2009 and the fact of the matter is nothing glaring has changed.  This will obviously be a priority in terms of recruiting and future development but for this year the Jayhawks will rely on the development of youth and other players hopefully returning to full strength.

Drew Dudley(will not be participating in spring practice)

Dudley was the man in the middle for much of 2009 and it was troubling at times.  Once saving grace is that it appear injuries were a factor and that's evident from the fact that he won't be participating this spring as he continues to recover.  One other trend that might be helpful for Dudley is the fact that several Big 12 teams appear to be shifting toward a more run focused spread attack which is probably where he can be more effective. 

Justin Springer

Springer entered last year recovering from a blown out knee late the year prior.  In fall practice he was also hampered by a nagging hamstring injury and it's likely he was grinding it out in spite of injury most of the season.  If Springer can return to what many believed he could become during that sophomore campaign he'll be a serviceable linebacker for Kansas.  He's big and strong but brings average speed.  In that instance he is much like Dudley where certain matchups might make him more of a liability,  When push comes to shove though, you have to play your best option and Springer has experience, he's entering his final year and the kid works as hard as anyone in terms of training.

Huldon Tharp

Probably the one guy that shows the most promise and brings the closest thing to a sure thing to this linebacking group.  Tharp was very productive as a true freshman while playing one of the most physically demanding positions on the football field.  He did all this after sitting out his senior year with a torn ACL.  With a full offseason in the training program and a spring and fall camp to improve his comfort level, Tharp should be a starter no question.

Vernon Brooks

A highly thought of linebacker out of the junior college ranks left the Mark Mangino Jayhawks and returned with the hiring of Turner Gill.  Now for his part Brooks reportedly showed up to fall camp out of shape and unprepared, if that doesn't change it won't matter who the coach is.  The good news is I'm hearing he's doing very well since the change was made and should factor into the rotation somewhere.

Josh Richardson

Richardson showed up on campus as a bit of a project.  He had a sibling in the NFL and many believed with his athleticism that he could turn into a good player down the road.  After two seasons in the program Richardson might be ready to take that leap to the next level after doing very well on the scout team and during offseason 7 on 7's.  Is Richardson a big time player? Not yet, but the Jayhawks are searching for answers at linebacker and he could play his way into meaningful time.

Wildcards/Freshman

Steven Johnson, Jacoby Thomas, Dakota Lewis, Ed Fink, Jake Farley

Prognosis and "Spring Starter" projections
  • Once again there isn't anything that makes anyone believe the Jayhawks will be better at linebacker this season.  Huldon Tharp is the primary bright spot, the other options are either unproven or seniors who have been slowed by injuries in the past. Kansas will have to hope those players return full strength and find a way to play at a higher level than they have in the past.  Plain and simple, hoping isn't the best position to be in. 
  • Spring Starters: Huldon Tharp, Justin Springer, Josh Richardson

Cornerback

This could be the one position that stands to gain the most from the Mangino departure.  Last year Jayhawk fans saw a bit of a revolving door at corner.  Any player who might have missed a play was promptly yanked and relegated to the practice squad.  Argue it any way you want, this doesn't seem like a very productive way to develop talent.  Factor in a lack of a pass rush and Kansas probably has more talent at this position than anyone knows, it's just a matter if the new staff can get the most out of it and find a way to improve the rest of the defense and avoid leaving these guys on an island for too long against some of the best passing teams in the country.

Anthony Davis

Opening game starter a year ago, Davis has great speed, good size and from his first day on campus was believed to be a player that could prosper with the right situation and development.  Here's hoping the change in the situation pays off for Davis.

Chris Harris

Harris' story is well documented.  A corner as a true freshman, relegated to the bench late in his sophomore year, makes the move to safety and finally back to starting corner.  He's the closest thing Kansas has to a proven corner and ironically he's likely the least athletic of the group.  Harris is a great tackler a fairly reliable defender and should start somewhere without question.

Ryan Murphy

The Free State High product started to see his minutes pick up at the nickel spot last season and at times showed flashes of some real potential.  Murphy is fast and very athletic.  Somewhere along the way though, he got lost like many and was sent packing back to the bench.  With a little more patience from the new staff Murphy should push for time.

Calvin Rubles

A junior college transfer with great size at the corner spot.  Late in the season he started to look comfortable against some pretty good competition in both Texas and Missouri.  A full season and offseason under his belt along with a nice showing in 7 on 7's and Rubles appears to be in the hunt.

Greg Brown

Brown might be the fastest player at this position and on this team, yet nobody has ever seen him on the field.  Need proof of the Mangino doghouse affect, look no further.  Brown has the potential to be one of those players that Jayhawk fans all ask, "who's this guy and where has he been".  Obviously there are two sides to every story though so whatever it was that kept him off the field with the last staff, he'll need to take care of on his end with this one.

Tyler Patmon

Patmon turned heads last fall and many expected he might see the field as a true freshman.  Surprisingly with all the names that did, his wasn't one of them.  Should turn out to be a blessing however as this redshirt freshman now has 4 years to develop.   He's the son of a coach, a very hard worker and has good athleticism.  The position is fairly experienced and deep right now so it's hard to say where he fits in just yet but Patmon could be a player this year or further down the line for Turner Gill.

Wildcards/Freshman

Isiah Barfield (yep, back to defense after a year at receiver), Corrigan Powell, Dexter McDonald

Prognosis and "Spring Starter" projections
  • Corner is a a deep position for Kansas with plenty of options but no real answers.  Chris Harris should emerge at one spot but with one or potentially even two more corner positions available if a 4-2-5 remains the norm, then this thing is as wide open as it gets.  Competition fosters development and better play, the corner position has competition at Kansas right now.
  • Spring Starters: Any one of Harris, Davis, Rubles, Brown and Murphy could find themselves starting on day one.  All have looked good and worked hard in the offseason, should be interesting.

Safety

Kansas graduated two good ones in Darrell Stuckey and Justin Thornton.  This has been a position with a great deal of stability for Kansas and some very solid recruiting of late to back it up.  Kansas will be young but should also be in pretty good shape in terms of depth and talent at the safety position going forward.

Lubbock Smith

Smith stepped in mid year as the starter opposite Stuckey.  With Lubbock in the game against Missouri, Kansas may have gone bowling with a 6-6 record.  He's stout in run support and plays well in coverage.  Just a redshirt sophomore, Smith could be a starter for the next three seasons.

Phillip Strozier

Strozier has looked very good at times and also lost in coverage at times due to what appears to be a lack of speed.  He has a high football IQ and perhaps his situation is more a matter of being moved in and out of the lineup and not given the time to get comfortable that has hurt his development most.  Expect Strozier to be a factor but the reality is Kansas could likely find a better long term option on the roster.

Prinz Kande

A highly thought of recruit from one of the best high school programs in the country.  Kande redshirted and now looks to be a player to watch and a potential long term replacement to Stuckey.

Dexter Linton

Another redshirt freshman with huge upside.  Linton was probably viewed as a little more of a raw talent than Kande but he's athletic, physical and should push for minutes based on what he has shown in the offeason workouts.

Wildcards/Freshman

Olaiton Oguntodo, Chris Harris??

Prognosis and "Spring Starter" projections
  • Kansas is young at safety but appears to have some pretty solid depth and talent.  If the recruiting success at the position translates to Saturday on the field, Kansas looks to be in a good position for several years.
  • Spring Starters:Lubbock Smith, Prinz Kande

Best Guess Spring Two Deep*

*Does not include players sitting out of spring practices

DE - Kevin Young (RsFR)

DT - Jamal Greene (SR) / Darius Parish (RsSoph)

DT - Richard Johnson Jr (JR)  / Travis Stephens (SR)

DE - Quinton Woods (SR)

 

OLB - Huldon Tharp (SOPH) / Vernon Brooks (SR)

MLB - Justin Springer (SR) / Steven Johnson (JR)

OLB - Josh Richardson(SOPH) / Dakota Lewis (SR)

 

CB - Anthony Davis (JR) / Ryan Murphy (JR)

CB - Chris Harris (SR) / Greg Brown (SOPH)

S - Lubbock Smith (SOPH) / Phillip Strozier (SR)

S - Prinz Kande (RsFR) / Dexter Linton (RsFR)