Yesterday, David took a look at the offense for us, so I figured I’d give the defense a shot. There’s so much going on with the defense this offseason that you can make a case as to whether you think the defense will be a reason for optimism or a reason for pessimism. Regardless, it’s undeniable that we’ll be seeing something different on this side of the ball in 2019.
Obviously, the big change is at defensive coordinator. After four years as the DC, Clint Bowen is still on staff as the safeties coach, but has made way for new DC D.J. Eliot. Miles’ DC at LSU was Dave Aranda, who specialized in a 3-4 defensive scheme, and that’s exactly what Eliot does as well. According to his offical bio, Eliot regularly runs clinics around the country regarding the principles of the 3-4 defense. He comes to KU from Colorado, where he spent the previous two seasons as the Buffs DC. Prior to that, he was the DC at Kentucky for four years.
Schematically, I don’t know much about a 3-4 defense. I usually play with a 4-3 in NCAA 14, so this is all new to me. I would expect lots of blitzing from all over the field in an effort to confuse not only the QB but blockers as well, and of course force turnovers. That said, I assume that’s what basically every defensive coordinator wants to do anyway, right? I can’t imagine they’re going to drop 8 into coverage very often, as I’m pretty sure the best way to disrupt Big 12 passing attacks is by getting pressure on the quarterback.
As for personnel, KU looks to be strong in the secondary this year. Mike Lee will lead the defense as a senior, and top-100 recruit Corione Harris will look to build on a sophomore season that saw him start 9 games and play in all 12. Hasan Defense will lock down the other side of the field, while Bryce Torneden returns to likely man the strong safety position.
The flip side to that is that you will see seven new faces in the front seven this year, at least in terms of starters. Along the line, Willie McCaleb and Cody Cole return at DE after rotating in last year. However, the Jayhawks will be looking for someone to swallow up some blockers at the nose tackle position. DEs Azur Kamara and Najee Stevens-McKenzie both had nice offer sheets coming from Juco in the 2018 class, and have been moved to the “Hawk” position - I assume some sort of DE/LB combo.
As for linebackers, the Jayhawks will need to find a bunch of them. Coming from a 4-2-5 scheme, KU is losing both starters from last year in Joe Dineen and Keith Loneker. Kansas will look for breakout seasons from Kyron Johnson, Denzel Feaster, and Dru Prox, and hope to have a couple other guys step up and earn some reps as well.
There are a few incoming players to keep an eye on. DE/LB Steven Parker was KU’s lone four-star recruit in the 2019 class. Juco DE Malcolm Lee had a nice offer sheet and should give the Jayhawks an immediate boost there. Juco DT Caleb Sampson is probably the top candidate for the nose tackle position at the moment. And LB Gavin Potter had at least two other Big 12 schools vying for his services.
After talking it out a bit, I think I lean more toward the camp of "reason for pessimism" regarding the defense. There are just too many unknowns, too many new starters, and too many ifs. After all, a secondary looks WAY better when the opposing QB is running for his life. And while the Jayhawks may find a player or two or three, counting on true freshmen, Juco transfers, and "breakout" returning players to fill so many open positions (QB/WR/DE/DT/MLB/OLB) isn't ideal.
Can the Jayhawks find the players they need? Will there be enough breakout players to field a competitive front seven? The answer to this and more will be revealed... in about four months.