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32 Days Until KU Football: Previewing the Defensive Line

Question marks abound on defense as the transfer portal hit KU hard along the D-line.

Kansas v Kansas State Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

With a new defensive coordinator in town, Kansas will be moving away from the 3-4 scheme of the last two years to a more traditional 4-3 look under new DC Brian Borland. Buffalo led the MAC in total defense each of the past two years, and in 2019 ranked 4th in the NCAA in rush yards allowed per game at 94.2. Obviously, stopping the run starts with the defensive line, so that’s where we’ll begin with our defensive preview.

A word of caution, though - it took a while for the Bulls to see results on defense under Leipold and Borland. Leipold’s first season at Buffalo was 2015, and from 2015-2018, UB’s average Defensive FEI rank was 94 (rounded up from 93.75). But in 2019 and 2020, the Bulls ranked 27 and 35, respectively. If you want to compare to KU - you know probably don’t - since 2015 the Jayhawks have an average rank of 94.5, with a high of 65 (2018) and a low of 122 (2015). The last two years for KU under DJ Eliot saw ranks of 103 and 94.

Yikes.

Projected 2-Deep

With DaJon Terry and Marcus Harris off to the SEC via the transfer portal, there are so many question marks here that your guess is as good as mine...

DE - RS-SO Steven Parker / SR Malcolm Lee

DT - SR Eddie Wilson / S-SR Sam Burt

DT - SR Caleb Sampson / SR Ronald McGee

DE - S-SR Kyron Johnson / RS-SR Zion DeBose

Oh boy, that’s a lot of seniors. However, all but two of them (Burt, Johnson) still have two years of eligibility due to the Covid waiver.

Wilson and McGee come to KU from Buffalo, while DeBose transferred in from Virginia Tech. All three should see playing time, and I expect all three to be on the two-deep, at least initially. Their presence potentially hurts prospects like RS-FR Caleb Taylor, SO Kenean Caldwell, and SO Jereme Robinson, all of whom saw action last year. Taylor, Caldwell, and Robinson are definitely names to remember, as they could quickly work their way into some playing time as well.

Another player to keep an eye out for is true freshman DE D’Marion Alexander, who chose the Jayhawks over Minnesota, Arizona State, and Baylor.

Coaching

Kwahn Drake returns for a third year coaching the defensive line, but his first year coaching with new HC Lance Leipold. He came to KU from Colorado alongside the previous defensive coordinator, DJ Eliot. Prior to Colorado, he coached at Eastern Illinois, Memphis, and Tulane.

Cause for Optimism

Well, as mentioned a moment ago, there is a LOT of experience and senior leadership up and down the defensive front despite the losses of DaJon Terry and Marcus Harris. (Imagine this line WITH those guys.) Steven Parker was a four-star, highly sought after recruit coming out of high school, and this is his chance to really blow up on the field. Meanwhile, Eddie Wilson has been terrorizing the MAC for the last two seasons and looks to see if his game translates to P5 football.

Cause for Concern

KU’s defense has been, well, really bad, and for a long time now, despite a slew of talented players (and even NFL draft picks). Is this the coaching staff that will finally put it all together? There are just too many question marks to have much faith in anything right now, especially with the way the Jayhawks have given up yards and points over the past several seasons.