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, Daniel Wise, and Joe Dineen.
So far in this series we’ve been highlighting the stars of Kansas’ defense; the guys making names for themselves despite less than stellar team numbers.
Considering this is running during the summer, where optimism is at its highest and progress is being made, this final post will look at the players who are making progress—they’ve shown glimpses, but have yet to truly shine.
Every player discussed so far had strong seasons of promise before breaking out as an all-conference-level player. Dorance Armstrong had 3.5 sacks and five tackles for loss as a freshman before his outstanding sophomore season. Dineen had 86 tackles as a sophomore before his conference-leading tackle season last year.
So who’s next? It’s difficult to predict for sure, but here are some candidates who have shown the potential to break out in the next couple of seasons.
If we are talking about potential, look no further than Hasan Defense. The sophomore cornerback, in his first year at KU, led the team in pass breakups with 9 (sixth most in the Big 12) and tied for the most interceptions (2) on the team with Mike Lee. He also recorded 42 tackles in 11 games and 10 starts. And with Corione Harris coming in to play at the other cornerback position, Defense will have a chance to be a key piece in an improved secondary.
Also in that potentially improved secondary is sophomore safety Bryce Torneden, who had a huge jump from his first to second year on the team. After just 10 tackles in six games as a freshman, Torneden’s stats skyrocketed to 61 tackles (good for the fourth most on the team), five for loss, and included a sack and pass deflection. The area where Torneden could improve—which David pointed out in the comments of the Mike Lee piece—is by increasing his playmaking ability and not letting the receiver easily make a catch before making a play.
Keith Loneker Jr.
The Free State graduate who followed in his father’s footsteps to KU after a year at Baker University has been fairly consistent in his two years as a Jayhawk, though is the longest shot of the group mentioned. Loneker Jr. recorded 43 tackles as a sophomore and 47 as a junior (sixth most on the team), but the biggest jump came in his playmaking. Last year, Loneker Jr. had 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble after not recording a sack or forced fumble the year before. Increased playmaking, coupled with a jump to 70+ tackles, would make for a strong senior season.