Despite ranking near the bottom of the country in points given up per game, Kansas has produced professional-level talent in its defense in this decade. This series looks at the current players in the best position to carry on that tradition set by guys like Dorance Armstrong and Ben Heeney. Revisit previous posts in the series: NFL Jayhawks, Mike Lee, and Daniel Wise.
Ben Heeney became one of the most dominant tacklers in recent Kansas football history, as noted in part one of this series. His affinity for stopping opposing skill players earned him the nickname Captain Heeney.
But not even Heeney put together a season of tackles like Joe Dineen in 2017. Neither did anyone else in the Big 12 and hardly anyone else in the country. And now he has one more season to accomplish Heeney-like career numbers.
Dineen first made a name for himself as a sophomore, putting together a solid season of 86 tackles, 6.5 for loss, and three sacks. Then came a junior season in which he got injured three games into the year at Memphis and was forced to redshirt. But the year away didn’t stop Dineen from continuing his upward climb.
Last year, Dineen racked up 133 total tackles according to Sports-Reference (although KU’s website says 137, the most for a KU defender since 1989), which was the most in the conference and ninth most in the country. Of those 133, 89 of Dineen’s tackles were solo, which again was best in the Big 12 and third in the NCAA.
Tackles for loss? You guessed it, his 22 were tops in the Big 12 and fourth most in the country. He then added 2.5 sacks and two pass deflections for good measure. For reference, Heeney’s outstanding senior year in 2014 consisted of 127 tackles, 13 for loss, and 1.5 sacks.
The one area where we haven’t seen the numbers from Dineen is in the turnovers. Dineen hasn’t intercepted a pass or forced or recovered a fumble in his 35 games as a Jayhawk. If we want to again keep the Heeney comparison, Heeney had four interceptions, three forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery over his career. If Dineen can add that big-play aspect to the outstanding tackle numbers, it’s going to be even easier for him to collect conference and national awards.
Few Jayhawks in the past decade have received the recognition Dineen earned as a redshirt junior. As a team captain, Dineen became the first KU player since Aqib Talib in 2007 to be a Sports Illustrated All-American after being named to the second team. He also was an Honorable Mention All-America from SB Nation. Within the Big 12, Dineen was voted to the Second Team All-Big 12 by the coaches, Associated Press, and Phil Steele, as well as an Academic All-Big 12 second team member.
During that breakout sophomore season, Dineen had recorded multiple double-digit-tackle performances, but it was the game against West Virginia where he showed a peak of what was to come. No Jayhawk would secure more tackles in a game that year than Dineen’s 16, which also included a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.
He would then match that career high of 16 tackles last season against Iowa State, but arguably the best game of Dineen’s stellar season was against Baylor where he set a career high of four tackles for loss—out of 11 total tackles—and a sack. While the Baylor game stands out, you don’t become one of the best tacklers in the country without consistency. Dineen only had one game last year that could be considered an off game: a four-tackle performance against Oklahoma. That game aside, Dineen recorded at least nine tackles in every game and tallied double-digit tackles in eight of his 12 games. Now if Dineen can be a defensive force in a conference win this season, his legacy as a Jayhawk will be even more secure.