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Kansas Football 2014 Position Previews: Secondary

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We wrap up our preview of the defense with an experienced backfield

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest question marks on the team last year was the defensive backfield. All four starters from 2012 were gone, leaving a combination of jucos and inexperienced young players competing for starting spots. Unlike most things in Charlie Weis' time at Kansas, the secondary turned out much better than expected. In fact, it was probably the strongest unit on the team.

2013: With Greg Brown graduating and Tyler Patmon transferring to Oklahoma State, cornerback was a troubling question mark headed into the season. Dexter McDonald returned after spending a year in junior college, and Jacorey Shepherd took over after a rocky year of transitioning from wide receiver. Cassius Sendish and Isaiah Johnson drew rave reviews from coaches during camp, but we'd heard that too many times to rely on it. At the end of the day, no one knew what to expect from this unit.

What we got was a rare pleasant surprise. McDonald and Shepherd combined for four picks and 23 passes broken up without being liabilities as tacklers. Sendish was a team captain despite it being his first year in the program, and Isaiah Johnson earned Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year honors. The best part is that all four return for 2014.

Projected Starters

Cornerback: Dexter McDonald (Sr)

As mentioned, McDonald spent his freshman year at Kansas as a second-teamer and showed some promise. He was dismissed prior to the 2012 season and spent a year at Butler County CC. Last year he picked off two passes and was not thrown at often. One year prior, Greg Brown and Tyler Patmon were our 3rd and 4th leading tacklers. McDonald's man so rarely had the ball he only had to contribute 29 (13th on the team). He earned honorable mention on the All-Big 12 team for his efforts. Phil Steele has him second-team all-conference heading into 2014

Cornerback: Jacorey Shepherd (Sr)

Shepherd also earned an Honorable Mention nod on the postseason all-conference list, though most would agree he was the weaker of the two corners. Shepherd had a nice season at wide receiver his freshman year, and was a surprise addition to the secondary his sophomore year. Shepherd looked shaky in limited playing time in 2012, so he was a particular concern of mine headed into last year. He would end up leading the team in passes broken up (13), and picked off two passes, so Dave Campo probably deserves some credit here for the turnaround

Safety: Cassius Sendish (Sr)

Sendish was voted a surprise team captain last year after just one month in Lawrence. Coaches praised his IQ and leadership, and while he doesn't jump out at you with his playmaking ability, Sendish was a solid contributor to the secondary last year. Once again a team captain, Sendish looks to built his first year as a Jayhawk, in which he finished third on the team in tackles

Safety: Isaiah Johnson (Jr)

A juco transfer with three years of eligibility, Johnson was named the Big 12's Defensive Newcomer of the year last season after picking off 5 passes and logging 73 tackles (3 for loss). The ball-hawking junior is a member of Phil Steele's preseason All-Big 12 second team, and has a chance to be the Kansas' punt returner as well. Johnson may a name that gets called in the NFL draft in 2016, and we're lucky to have two more years of him in Lawrence

Nickel: Greg Allen (So)

Allen was a bit of a surprise at the top of the depth chart when camp opened in August. He mostly saw the field in special teams, but on rare occasions did get some work as a third corner in nickel packages. At 5'11, 210 pounds, Allen has the larger frame that Bowen and Campo seem to like in their nickel backs, which they use as more of a safety/linebacker hybrid than the traditional corner/safety hybrid associated with the position. He registered just two tackles in his limited time last year, so we'll have to wait until the season starts to really know what we have in him

Depth

Cornerback: Ronnie Davis (Jr)

Davis is currently listed as the backup to Dexter McDonald. If McDonald and Shepherd stay healthy, Davis is unlikely to see much action this year. Davis was a fairly unheralded pickup from the juco ranks

Cornerback/Nickelback: Kevin Short (Jr)

Short has been a bit of an enigma in his year in Lawrence. Arguably the highest-rated DB in our juco haul last year, it came as a shock that he didn't even suit up for the season opener. The nebulous "personal reasons" explanation was given, but within a week it was announced that he had failed to qualify academically and would be sitting out the 2013 season. Short had a nice collection of offers and was considered by many a risk to jump ship rather than sticking around the program just to sit out. Short stuck it out, and now looks to contribute either as a cornerback or nickelback. It's hard to get a read on just where Short's strengths lie. There's little doubt he has the athleticism to play, and though Clint Bowen recently praised his natural football IQ, he's also made it pretty clear there have been some issues picking up the position. Those two assessments don't quite match up to me. The fact that, coming into camp, he was beat out at the nickel spot by a relative unknown in Greg Allen makes me a bit concerned about Kevin Short's ability to live up to the hype he garnered during his recruitment. Time will tell, I suppose

Cornerback: Matthew Boateng (Fr)

Boateng was a 2-star recruit and is not currently listed on the depth chart, but since Matt Tait recently dubbed him a player to watch for this season, I went ahead and included him in case he sneaks up a sees some playing time

Safety: Anthony "Fish" Smithson (Jr)

Fish picked us over Wisconsin and Utah, and coaches and media alike have raved about the camp he's having. He's listed as Sendish's backup, and will be in the running to take over his starting job next season. I anticipate he'll see the field plenty in one role or another this year

Safety: Tevin Shaw (So)

Most of Shaw's playing time in his redshirt freshman season was on special teams last year, but this year he's listed as second string behind Isaiah Johnson. He drew scholarship offers from the likes of Iowa, Penn State and South Carolina during his recruitment, and the coaches are quick to praise his toughness and physicality. It's hard to judge him based on his limited time at the position, but there is reason to be excited about Shaw's future as a Jayhawk

Nickelback: Collin Spencer (Fr)

Listed as the number two nickelback as a redshirt freshman, Spencer will look to make an immediate impact this season. Spencer was a gifted running back and DB in high school, and some speculated that he could see time on offense this year after Bourbon and Cox went down, but for now he remains a DB. Spencer is another player who had an impressive list of offers out of high school (TCU, Arkansas, Texas A&M), and draws a lot of praise for his speed and explosiveness