As mentioned a few days ago in our defensive line preview, last season Kansas completely revamped its defense, going to a base 3-4 look under new DC D.J. Eliot (as opposed to Clint Bowen’s 4-2-5). Last year, Kansas was looking at four new starters; this year, it’s just two. Plus, several underclassmen who were contributors down the stretch are back as well. Let’s take a look.
Cause for Concern
Gone are senior starters from last year in Najee Stevens-Mckenzie and Azur Kamara. Dru Prox missed eight games due to injury. Once again, the Jayhawks will be young and inexperienced. When healthy, Dru Prox is a beast, but his health also has to be a concern coming into the season.
Case for Optimism
While inexperienced, there is a LOT of talent in the linebacking corps. SO Gavin Potter was fourth on the team last year in tackles, taking over when Dru Prox went down. R-FR Steven Parker was a four-star recruit and top-400 player nationally in the class of 2019; he played in four games last year. Incoming freshmen Taiwan Berryhill and Alonso Person both had multiple P5 offers, although Berryhill is not yet listed on the official roster, presumably because he has yet to enroll (Person was an early enrollee). And I haven’t even mentioned Krishawn Brown yet (also not yet listed on the roster), who was KU’s highest-rated LB recruit in the 2020 class.
Last season, Kansas listed its linebackers as two outside, one inside, and one “Jack” on the depth chart. They are going to have Potter and Prox on the field at the same time this year; they’ll have to. The question is which one will move outside?
Best guess time...
Jack (OLB/DE)- R-FR Steven Parker / FR Alonso Person
Sam (ILB) - SO Gavin Potter / JR Cooper Root or FR Krishawn Brown
Mike (ILB) - SR Kyron Johnson / JR Jay Dineen
Will (OLB) - SR Dru Prox / SR Denzel Feaster
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot will coach the linebackers once again, while Chidera Uzo-Diribe will assist with the outside linebackers (per KU’s official roster page). Uzo-Diribe was with Kansas last year as quality control; prior to that he was at Colorado as a defensive graduate assistant at Colorado from 2016-18. He replaces former special teams coordinator Mike Ekeler, who left for a job at North Texas.
Three seniors and four talented underclassmen give Kansas a solid look at linebacker heading into the 2020 season. However, for the second straight year, the Jayhawks will be lacking on experience overall.
Linebackers are expected to make plays in 3-4 schemes; not just tackles, but pass coverage as well as pressuring the quarterback. On paper, Kansas has the talent to put out a solid LB corps this fall, but much like the defensive line we looked at last week, we have to see if that talent will manifest on the field.