As mentioned a few days ago during the preview of the defensive line, Kansas is completely revamping its defense this year - not only in coaching and scheme, but in personnel, as KU has the task of replacing all starting defensive linemen and linebackers from last year’s squad. Let’s take a look at what we’ve got at this position for 2019.
Cause for Concern
Gone is leading tackler Joe Dineen. Keith Loneker is gone as well after finishing third on the team in tackles in 2018. With KU transitioning to a 3-4 defense, Les Miles is going to have to find a ton of linebackers who can run and tackle.
Cause for Optimism
I’m actually just going to copy and paste what I wrote for a defensive line a few days ago: Clint Bowen is no longer the DC, so that may be a good enough reason for many KU fans. DJ Eliot brings his 3-4 scheme to Lawrence, which will be a change from Bowen’s 4-2-5. With all of the unknowns personnel-wise, you’ll pretty much have to pin your hopes on the change at DC for any optimism.
Once again, absolute and complete conjecture on my part, but here’s a stab at the 2-deep. I don’t have any idea at this point who is going to be inside or outside, so I’ll just list four starters followed by four reserves:
LB - JR Kryon Johnson / FR Gavin Potter
LB - JR Dru Prox / SO Jay Dineen
LB - SR Denzel Feaster / FR Steven Parker
“Hawk” - SR Azur Kamara / SR Najee Stevens-McKenzie
Yes, “Hawk” is an official position on the 2019 Kansas roster. An educated guess says this will be some sort of LB/DE rover who could line up anywhere on any given down. Kamara played in all 12 games last year, starting three of them, while McKenzie played in 11 games.
Other than those two, Johnson, Prox, and Feaster are the only other players we’ve seen make tackles on defense in a Jayhawk uniform, as Dineen primarily played special teams last year. Parker was KU’s lone 4-star commit in the 2019 class, and by all accounts should be a good one. Still, he’ll be a freshman. I’d also expect Gavin Potter to figure into the rotation and get some playing time this year as well.
This group actually has two position coaches. DC D.J. Eliot will coach the outside linebackers, while Special Teams Coordinator Mike Ekeler will coach the inside linebackers. Ekeler has coached linebackers at North Carolina, Georgia, USC, Indiana, Nebraska, LSU (under Les Miles), and Oklahoma. Eliot has also coached linebackers throughout his career, including as the DC at his last two stops, Colorado and Kentucky.
We’ve got a nice mix of upperclassmen and promising underclassmen in this group, however, the upperclassmen aren’t exactly loaded with experience, especially when you once again factor in the scheme change.
Kansas will have a solid secondary (which we’ll cover soon), but it’s hard to cover guys for more than a few seconds. Kansas will have to find some way to pressure quarterbacks, and with a base 3-man front, that means blitzing from the linebacker position.
Have some kool-aid, Kansas fans. You may need it.