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Kansas Football Spring Football Outlook: Linebacker

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 17:  David Sims #7 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets is tackled by Darius Willis #2 of the Kansas Jayhawks at Bobby Dodd Stadium on September 17, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 17: David Sims #7 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets is tackled by Darius Willis #2 of the Kansas Jayhawks at Bobby Dodd Stadium on September 17, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The linebackers, your working men of the defense. These are the guys that are supposed to clean up the mess and make the plays that aren't necessarily fun to make. Kansas had a great one last year in Steven Johnson. He set the tone for a defense when no one else seemed ready to step up. Johnson is gone, Kansas has plenty of candidates, who's going to set the tone in 2012?

Spring Candidates

17 Bakare, Tunde 5-10 205 Linebacker SR (1L) Woodbridge, Va./Forest Park HS/Highland CC

The first thing that jumps out with Bakare is his size. He was listed as 6' or 6'1" 220ish under Gill. That's a slightly undersized linebacker. 5'10" 205 is even more undersized obviously. The good news is that this is still the Big 12 and there is a place for a player like Bakare when playing against the spread.

Bakare battled injury much of last year so I don't think we ever got to see what he is truly capable of from a speed and aggressiveness standpoint. He'll have some competition from a few young up and comers, but it feels like at some point we have to hit on a junior college kid and Bakare has shown some potential prior to being hobbled early last year.

2 Willis, Darius 6-2 243 Linebacker JR (1L) Houston, Texas/Eisenhower HS/Buffalo

Willis was the man in the middle last year but he never seemed to fully grasp the role or feel comfortable handling it from an athletic standpoint, specifically any sort of pass coverage. He clearly has the size to be in the middle but there has been some talk that maybe rotating him in a similar fashion as Toben Opurum might be a better use of what he is good at. I think we'll see Willis playing the mike spot again, but don't be surprised to see him used in other roles as well, especially if the defensive staff can find another solid option in the middle.

34 Tharp, Huldon 6-0 220 Linebacker JR (2L) Mulvane, Kan./Mulvane HS

Early returns are in and it sounds like Huldon Tharp could be back. Everyone has seen what he is capable of from an instincts and football IQ perspective and this could be a great example of where we've been misfiring for the last two years. If Tharp steps back into a starting role and produces for Kansas, that injury two years ago might be a blessing in disguise because it means he will only have wasted one year of on the field eligibility playing under Gill.

4 Kande, Prinz 5-11 203 Linebacker JR (2L) Euless, Texas/Trinity HS

Kande has become a bit of an enigma. This is a player who was one of the highest rated recruits in his class yet he's never looked comfortable on the field and you rarely hear anything about him. The last time he was painted in a positive light was in Mangino's last year when Clint Bowen talked about underclassman that were making strides. I guess Bowen is back so maybe that means he'll return to favor, but if the early depth chart and talk out of spring ball is any indication, he's still on the outside looking in.

55 Reynolds, Michael 6-1 226 Linebacker SO (1L) Wichita, Kan./Kapaun Mt. Carmel HS

So Michael Reynolds isn't a 6'4" 235 pound defensive end prospect? The over inflation of certain measurements these past two years has become almost comical when doing these previews. The good news is that Reynolds sounds like a player either way. He's been specifically mentioned by Weis and Campo during the discussions this preseason and both see him as an athletic player that could develop very nicely at linebacker.

31 Heeney, Ben 6-0 218 Linebacker SO (1L) Hutchinson, Kan./Hutchinson HS

There has been some talk that Heeney has been running 1st team mike on more than one occasion which would bode well for potentially using Willis in some other areas. I think the only regret right now is wasting a year of eligibility for special teams on a 2-10 team. Other than that Heeney is another young player that we should get to see a lot more of this year in the linebacker rotation.

50 Farley, Jake 6-1 220 Linebacker SO (SQ) Cedar Falls, Iowa/Cedar Falls HS

Farley is a coaches son and someone we haven't seen or heard much from since his arrival. He seems like a good depth piece and hopefully someone who could step in if needed, but at this point there hasn't been any indication that he'll push for major minutes.

41 Love, Jake 6-0 211 Linebacker FR (RS) Tonkawa, Okla./Tonkawa HS

Love is the youngest scholarship linebacker. He is likely going to take some more adjustment and development before breaking into the rotation on a consistent basis but he is said to possess some pretty good athleticism and speed having played safety in high school.

53 Karlin, Ryan 5-11.5 216 Linebacker FR (RS) Shawnee, Kan./Rockhurst HS

Karlin is your preferred walk on from a very solid program in Kansas City. I would always be in favor of extending such spots to Rockhurst players when we find one who could develop.

Incoming Notables

Anthony McDonald - 6'2" 225 - 5th year transfer(Notre Dame)

McDonald was a former Army All American, four star talent that was the 11th rated linebacker in his high school class. That's pretty good. He took a redshirt, sat a year due to injury and then never really regained solid footing under the new coaching regime. It's second chance university and McDonald will be a nice addition in the middle. He will certainly provide a good run stopping option when needed and he'll allow Kansas to use Willis and Heeney in other ways as well. This is a low risk, high reward addition.

Schyler Miles - 6'2" 220 - Incoming Freshman

Miles is probably the one freshman in the incoming class that has the best opportunity to make an impact. That's not to say he'll start, but he's ready to compete and it wouldn't be a shock at all to see him play as a true freshman. Weis has a great relationship with him and he will be someone to keep an eye on this fall especially with the departure of Garrett.

Position Synopsis

All in all this position does seem to have the pieces to be a strength. Two years ago it was definitely an area of concern but Gill and Weis have both done some things to help address the need.

Now the most important thing will be competent coaching. This was a spot on our staff that was noted as a weakness, it feels like we should be in a good spot now. Put in the work to improve physically, coach them up and good things could happen.

Another positive here is that we have some flexibility. If Heeney is working at mike that means we can go smaller and quicker. With Willis or McDonald we have more size. Toben Opurum has worked into the mix as well. There is a nice variety of types and molds that hopefully Campo can mix and match to give the opponent a bunch of different looks. Obviously we'll need something to happen on the defensive front to really take a step forward, but this group could prove more than serviceable if that happens.