Saturday, April 19, 2008
Injuries, of all things, made an NFL defection much easier for Kansas University's football team to swallow.
While former KU cornerback Aqib Talib prepares for a career in professional football, two cornerbacks still on the Jayhawks' roster are atop the depth chart and boasting experience.
Kendrick Harper's frustrating junior season gets the credit.
Harper suffered a hand injury during the first practice of summer camp, knocking him off the first team four games of the 2007 season and elevating true freshman Chris Harris into the starting role opposite Talib.
Once Harper recovered, KU's cornerback fleet was healthy and leading the Jayhawks' suffocating defense. But more injury woes knocked Harper out of two more games in November, forcing Harris to grow up even faster.
He did, and KU's cornerback situation in 2008 wins as a result.
"I've got the experience. It just clicks," Harris said after the spring game Monday. "I'm a lot faster on the field."
Harris played in all 13 games in 2007, making 10 starts. Harper, a junior-college transfer, played seven games and made three starts.
With Talib leaving school a year early, Harper and Harris played first-team defense during the spring game. The two combined for nine tackles, and each recovered a fumble.
If Monday's scrimmage showed anything, it was this: Talib will be missed, but not dearly.
"It's really not a lot different," defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said. "Obviously, Aqib could make a special play, but we've got guys that can fill in. It's always amazing when guys leave how everybody just moves on."
Harris said that's possible in part because of the wisdom Talib passed down to him. Harris still is just a teenager, but he's starting to see himself as a leader among the cornerbacks. His seven-tackle night in the spring game was a fitting performance considering his added responsibilities.
"It's kind of good to get that started," Harris said. "I know I have a role to fill, and I'm just ready. I'm ready to take on that role."
As for Harper? He got tested plenty, too, and had his share of good moments from his 2007 season - most notably a key interception at Kansas State. But just as he took back the starting job from Harris, he lost it again due to injury.
It cost the Jayhawks depth in the short term. But it gave them precious experience for the long run, and Harper sees that.
"It was pretty frustrating," Harper said. "I just worked through it and prayed and stuff. It's all pretty good now."
¢ New commitment: Rivals.com reported that Kansas received an oral commitment for its 2009 class from Tyler Patmon.
Patmon, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound defensive back, hails from Cedar Park, Texas. He's KU's third known commitment for the 2009 class.