They're gathering some spunk. Or, as Aqib Talib said last week: "One word: baaalllin!"
Talib, Kansas University's star cornerback, is loose-lipped and light-hearted around reporters, but his ballin' comment about KU's refreshed defense has deeper meaning. Go back to his last few interceptions, when Talib drops the football after the play is over and mocks the "jump shot" celebration made popular by the NFL's New York Giants.
The Giants were inspired from the hip-hop video "We Fly High" by Jim Jones, where Jones' posse shouts "baaallin!" while motioning a jump shot.
KU's other cornerback, Anthony Webb, has picked up on the celebration, too. They haven't been flagged yet, though after Webb actually threw the ball about 10 feet after his first pick last week, Talib quipped, "That might be pushing it."
Call it cockiness, confidence or cocky confidence. But KU's defense is having fun again, after weeks of being blamed for what appeared to be a doomed 2006 season.
The breakthrough was coming at some point. But considering the struggles against Baylor, the domination by Oklahoma State and the outright depression and self-doubt that had to have come with five close losses in six weeks, who could've expected the growth spurt to happen so soon?
The fact is - and this is hard to fathom if you've been under a rock the last month - the Jayhawks have looked sharp on defense during their current three-game winning streak. They're forcing turnovers, getting in the quarterback's grill and, most importantly, winning football games when postseason implications scream urgency.
"I think we're improving across the board in various areas of the game that we needed to improve in," KU coach Mark Mangino said. "I think everybody involved with the defense just keeps getting better and better."
History tells us it was going to happen. Consider the 2003 defense that gave up 56 points to North Carolina State in the Tangerine Bowl. Several of those players - most notably the linebackers - were part of the same defense that shut down Houston in the 2005 Fort Worth Bowl.
The collective improvement of those defenses didn't come without individual improvement. Same for this turnaround.
"It's repetition, it's hard work by the players in the media room, studying tape, practicing, taking instructions well," Mangino said. "It's more a credit to the technical aspect, maybe more so than the emotional aspect."
Webb intercepted two passes against Kansas State last week - apparently shooting one from three-point range - just weeks after being picked on by Nebraska on Sept. 30. Freshman Darrell Stuckey is a mainstay at free safety, after he was seldom-used a month ago while recovering from an ankle injury and subsequent development hit.
The line - and in particular, defensive end Russell Brorsen - is disrupting the quarterback more. And the two rock-solid talents, Talib and defensive tackle James McClinton, continue to put together All-Big 12 resumes.
Yes, it's a fun time to play defense for KU. Many thought that never could be uttered just four weeks ago, when a defensive meltdown contributed to a 36-35 loss at Baylor on Oct. 21, dropping Kansas to 3-5.
"We have a lot of new faces on the defense this year and people who didn't play many plays last year," Talib said. "The more plays you play, the more comfortable you get, the more you learn your stuff, learn your assignments, now you can really make plays."
And make enough plays, and you can have fun doing it - even incorporate basketball, hip-hip videos and the New York Giants into your game. Just don't get flagged.
"Anytime you play like that coming into the next week, you always feel real confident," Talib said. "You get a little swagger going into the game. You're just feeling real good."