Last year the defensive end position had some veteran presence with senior Jake Laptad entering his final year in a Jayhawk uniform. Beyond Laptad however, things were fairly uncertain. Illness had removed DJ Marshall from the equation, fellow senior Quinton Woods never quite seemed to find his place in Lawrence and the remaining competitors were all young and inexperienced.
A year later, a few position changes in the book and the Jayhawks are entering 2011 in a very similar situation. At face value the position looks thin and a bit uncertain. At the same time, a closer look does provide a fair amount of optimism based on that all to often used word "potential".
For what it's worth Carl Torbush and the Kansas defense did look significantly closer to being competitive by the end of last year when comparing that to the beginning and if that progress can carry over and continue through Spring the Kansas defense could provide a little more of a boost than we've seen in recent years.
Toben Opurum - 6'1 240 - Junior(35)
Toben started the year at running back, quickly moved to linebacker and then found a home at defensive end. By all account Opurum is a very smart football player and that should be credited for his ability to make so many moves and still provide a spark and substantial hope at the position by the end of last season.
The thing with Toben is he's listed at 240, but in reality he weighed in heavier than Laptad by seasons end a year ago. He's versatile to the point where Torbush could potential use him in a stand up position or with his hand on the ground rushing the passer. With a full spring and an upcoming fall camp to settle in, Opurum would certainly be the front runner to anchor this position and help improve the Kansas defense in 2011.
Keba Agostinho - 6'3" 253 - Sophomore(96)
Agostinho was good enough to find starter minutes as a true freshman and the talk out of winter workouts is that he has been a player making big strides physically. There also had been talk of him moving to the interior but at the start of Spring he is working primarily with the ends and based on some feedback I've heard, that might be where he can be best used.
Just like Toben, Agostinho provided a solid option despite very limited experience at the division one level. The experience he was able to gain combined with another year to mature physically should position Agostinho to see major minutes at the position in 2011.
Tyrone Sellers - 6'3" 230 - Sophomore(94)
Sellers is an interesting story. He spent much of his freshman season jumping position to position while Mangino and company tried to determine where he could be used. A lot of that was based on the fact that Sellers was smaller than the current listing of 230 and it was a struggle to add the needed weight. Simply put Sellers is an athlete and not necessarily a natural born end size-wise like you see with other players.
To his credit Sellers dedicated himself to taking that step and put himself in a position to compete at the start of fall camp a year ago. In fact, Sellers was a very serious candidate to see major minutes until he sustained an injury that set him back significantly in his redshirt freshman season. Back in the saddle and healthy, Sellers will be competing for minutes and it could be a situation where Kansas uses him in a similar fashion as they did on occasion late last year and that would be pass rushing situations.
The challenge for Sellers will be proving that he can be an every down end, but he certainly has a place and can provide some value with his speed and athleticism.
DJ Marshall - 6'3" 235 - Sophomore(95)
Marshall's story is well documented and it's a fantastic story without a doubt. A player battling cancer, staying a part of the team and going through all the trials that come with such a struggle. The thing with Marshall is that he very much had a similar story to Sellers during his first two seasons at Kansas. He lacked the weight and there was even some talk that linebacker might be a spot he could give a try.
This Spring Marshall is back and practicing at 100% at the position and working in with 1st and 2nd team reps. It's hard to say what level he'll be at based on what he's gone through, but I'm also not going to doubt anyone who has likely matured from a mental standpoint far beyond his years based on what he's gone through. Personally, I wish Marshall the best of luck and I'm hopeful that this story has a great ending with him earning the opportunity to contribute at Kansas.
Pat Lewandowski - 6'6" 248 - Freshman(66)
Lewandowski stepped on campus and had decent size a good motor and a whole lot of potential. All indications and talk out of winter workouts and even headed out of last fall were that this is a player that can develop into a major factor for Kansas somewhere. There have been plenty of compliments to his work ethic, compliments to his football IQ and compliments to his versatility.
At this point Lewandoswki is still listed at end but don't rule out the prospect of him moving inside to tackle at some point. Either way Kansas fans should get a look at Lewandowski on some level in 2011.
Julius Green - 6'7" 270 - Freshman(99)
Green is a grayshirt that arrived on campus in January almost a year after actually graduating from high school. Obviously the first thing that jumps out is his size. Now it's a matter of seeing where he is at from a football standpoint and competing at a Big 12 level. Needless to say Green is someone that has some built in advantages, but it's likely that we'll have a better perspective on his potential for 2011 after spring camp.
JaQwaylin Arps - 6'3" 235 - Freshman(98)
Arps is a player that has drawn praise for his work during winter workouts and his focus in the weight room. On the field Arps was a contributor on the compete team a year ago. Initially there was some talk on his arrival that Arps could drop down inside to defensive tackle, but based on his development physically after a year it would seem that home is going to be on the end and he'll now have an opportunity to compete for a spot on gameday this year after redshirting a season ago.
Josh Richardson - 6'3" 235 - Junior(38)
Richardson was a player that the last Kansas staff took a chance on. He came out of a solid high school program and has a solid football pedigree with his brother having played at a high level and as a defensive end in the NFL. At this point finding a home for Richardson has been a bit of a challenge, but they seem to have settled on end where he could compete if all the pieces finally click.
Dylan Avery - 6'4" 240 - Freshman(60)
Avery is a good sized player that walked on to the Jayhawk football team and redshirted as a freshman. Avery played at Topeka HS just down the road.
Questions Entering Spring Practice
- Pass Rush? One of the best ways to improve a defense is by applying pressure to the quarterback. Kansas has some talent in the defensive backfield but coverage can only hold up so long when you name isn't Revis. It's been a broken record for several years now. Kansas needs to find a way to pressure the QB.
- Does this group have the depth? There is some quantity to the group when looking at the roster but how much quality depth does Kansas have at the end position.
- Can Toben Opurum make the next step? Last year he produced fairly well based on his athleticism and his general football IQ. Now he's been able to settle in to a position, a position where he could actually have a future at the next level. Can he begin to emerge as a serious difference maker at the position.
- Who fills out the rotation? Toben and Keba have seen starter minutes and they've played plenty during Big 12 play. They're the likely starters. Who fills out a four man end rotation? Can Julius Green or Pat Lewandowski provide size. Can Sellers or Marshall come of the edge in pass situations. Two guys can't do it all, there will need to be two more that separate themselves from the pack.
There is certainly potential at the position but the term potential is more hope than substance. The position is an important area for Kansas to continue to improve upon and it's clear that the staff knows that when you look at their recruiting efforts this last year.
Now the question becomes how much work the staff and these players have put in to take care of the developmental piece for THIS season. It's tough to rely on an incoming freshman and Kansas has several players on the roster that are a few years in. Spring will be telling as to whether the above group can provide some production at a position that has struggled since the departure of Charleton Keith.