Turning our attention now to the secondary. No, I'm not glossing over the linebacker spot. We just happened to cover that through several posts back when the Huldon Tharp injury took place. Now, I'll probably do an update with the Toben Opurum switch, but for now we continue our position outlooks with the safety spot.
For several years Kansas has had the luxury of an absolute rock in Darrell Stuckey. Transitioning to a new group was certainly eased by the discovery of the next potential leader at the position in Lubbock Smith, but there still is the task of replacing Stuckey and transitioning to a new era so to speak at safety.
It's a position with good depth, young talent and well positioned for the future. But as is often the case, you are only as strong as your weakest link. This group can be good, they could be one of the strongest positions for the Jayhawks defensively, but they certainly can't do it alone.
Projected Depth Chart
FS: Lubbock Smith, Phillip Strozier
SS: Olaitan Oguntodu, Prinz Kande
Smith is the player in this group that most will look to for significant improvements in the offseason. Smith took over in a starters capacity in Boulder last year and was impressive prior to being injured late in the season. Smith recorded 36 tackles in his five games as a starter and showed the ability to attack in run support and play reasonably well in coverage.
He's just a redshirt sophomore, with three years of eligibility remaining. That's roughly the same timeframe that Stuckey emerged on the Kansas defense during his career.
Oguntodu played in nine games as a true freshman. He brings great size and athleticism to the field but couldn't seem to find his way up the depth chart from that point forward.
This season presents a final chance and a fresh start for the senior. For the past two years when the Jayhawk defensive backfield has been in flux, his name has constantly been one mentioned as someone deserving of a chance. Fortunately, he's going to get that chance in 2010.
Strozier will always be remembered for one blocked field goal, but the senior also has spent plenty of time at safety over the past two years for Kansas. The biggest problem always seems to be speed. Strozier is a bit of a linebacker stuck in a safeties body in a lot of ways and with a new coaching staff that values speed at a premium, it's not a surprise to see him at #2 and not listed as a starter.
Strozier will certainly provide minutes, and discounting a senior playing his final season of football is never something I'm willing to do.
Kande almost made his way on the field several times in 2009. He's a very talented player and one of the top recruits in his class coming in as a four year starter for one of the top high school programs in the country. Surprisingly the transition appears to be taking a little longer, but what he can do is make plays and that ability will get him on the field at some point. Before it's all said and done, a defensive backfield with Smith and Kande would be a great looking duo for Kansas.
Linton is another redshirt freshman safety from Texas. He doesn't come with as much fanfare as Kande, but he has the potential to be a contributor.
It's been fairly quiet in terms of any buzz surrounding Linton, but in his first fall last year he had turned the heads of several teammates in terms of what they felt he could turn into. Plenty of time for this one to develop, four more years of eligibility.
Your walk on candidates at safety. Brian Blackwell who would have also fit this category has apparently moved to outside linebacker.
Keeston Terry, Ray Mitchell, Dexter McDonald
These three freshman are all in the mix at the position. Most likely Mitchell and Terry would be the two to stay at safety with McDonald playing at corner.
Looking Beyond 2010
Kansas figures to be in a good position at safety for the foreseeable future. If Oguntodu ultimately wins out the Jayhawks would be losing a senior starter, but most would feel pretty comfortable with Kande stepping into that role in the future.
Behind Smith and Kande, the Jayhawks would then have three players in Terry, Mitchell and Linton that were heavily recruited. Victor Simmons and Alex Matlock are two players currently committed for 2010 and would only add to the depth for the future at the position.