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Sunday, August 16, 2009

KU linebacker spots still up for grabs

The Kansas University football team runs through drills during an evening practice in this  Aug. 7, 2008, file photo.

The Kansas University football team runs through drills during an evening practice in this Aug. 7, 2008, file photo.

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When last year’s starting linebackers — Mike Rivera, Joe Mortensen and James Holt — all exhausted their Kansas University football eligibility, they left behind a legacy, but no definite replacements. And as the Jayhawks prepare for the 2009 season, competition for the position is still open.

“We really don’t know (who’s going to start),” said senior running back-turned-linebacker Angus Quigley. “We’re just working. Coach is rotating, trying to get everybody in. Whoever comes out on top, that’s what it’s going to be.”

In addition to Quigley, returnees seniors Arist Wright and Jake Schermer, juniors Justin Springer and Drew Dudley, and sophomore Steven Johnson are all options for the Jayhawks.

Out of the short list for starters, Wright turned in the most tackles last season with 33. Playing in all 13 games last year, Dudley finished with 12 tackles and has earned praise from both head coach Mark Mangino and linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Bill Miller.

“Drew Dudley, who we moved over in the spring … ” Miller said. “He just got three days at linebacker in the spring, but he’s been really consistent and executed well.”

Springer recorded 15 tackles in nine games for the Jayhawks last year before suffering a season-ending injury in the Kansas State game, and questions about his injury remain.

“We just haven’t gotten a lot of work out of Springer,” Mangino said. “With injuries, he has just been limited. So I can’t tell you what he’s going to contribute or what he’s not going to contribute at this time. We’re hopeful, but we don’t know.”

Quigley and Dudley served as first-team linebackers for most of the open practice Tuesday, but at Media Day at the Anderson Family Football Complex, Mangino suggested the Jayhawks might be going in a younger direction, specifically in the form of true freshman Huldon Tharp.

“You are going to see Huldon Tharp play, there’s no question,” Mangino said. “... He has been impressive as a freshman. I think it’s a matter of time before he wins the job. I think we’re just counting the days until he wins the job. We want to see him on tape in a scrimmage, and we think that’s just going to be a rubber stamp putting him at a starting position.”

Miller echoed Mangino’s enthusiasm for the Kansan out of Mulvane.

“Huldon Tharp has really been a pleasant surprise as a freshman coming in here,” he said. “... You know, we’re really searching for the consistency, and the guy that’s going to do it right and execute every time, he’s out there.”

Consider that a call to arms for the veterans.

“I think that some of the older kids, they’ve got a few days here to buckle down and make a statement, or (they) are probably not going to be in the mix,” Mangino said.

But the challenge from the underclassmen is something the older players embrace.

“It’s definitely a good thing,” Quigley said. “If there wasn’t competition, then you can’t develop a solid two-deep or anything like that. Competition is healthy for everybody. It helps you not to be complacent.”

“It’s been good,” Springer added. “We do have a lot of competition. ... I feel like it’s bringing the better out of all of us because every day we have to go out there and prove something to the coaches.”

If these Kansas linebackers have anything to prove, it’s that they can live up to the strong defense of the linebackers who came before them.

“We’re working, and we’re trying our best to get that done,” Quigley said. “That’s our goal, to be one of the strong points of the defense and not be a weak link or anything like that. ... We’re trying to hold up our end of the deal.”

Comments

Dyrk Dugan 10 years, 5 months ago

this will be an interesting group. if Springer hadn't gotten injured, it would be a lot better...because you have a couple of known quantities out there with Wright and him....but now there's only Arist.

Quigley is your big unknown. obviously he has the size and running ability...and certainly the physical aspect (ask #21 from Texas last year). But no experience at all. he probably last played LB in a little league game.

If Quigley picks it up..and Tharp can come on....and you throw in Dudley and Springer comes in mid year....we could be fine. a lot of ifs, but the coaches will make it work. and Brooks would certainly be a bonus.

is Julian Jones in camp?

certainly LB should be a focus of recruiting this year.

dubya 10 years, 5 months ago

Some great footage of Vernon Brooks. Watch for no. 11! He'll be on the field this year.

rolo2383 10 years, 5 months ago

Steven Johnson was on the roster last year. I remember going to watch an open practice and was impressed with his size. His shoulders are about 8 feet wide. I can't remember what kind of speed he has. I believe he's a redshirt freshman out of the east coast somewhere.

Dirk Medema 10 years, 5 months ago

The coaches' quotes are the same ones from a week ago around the time that Brooks left camp. It's a new article, but not really any new info - except for the blog notes that Vernon is back at camp. That is good to know.

He may have lots of ability, but another reality is that D1 O's & D's are much more complex than the JC versions, so the learning curve can be a challenge. It's tough to miss a week of practice and meetings when there is new stuff to learn every hour.

Steven Johnson is from outside Philly, but doesn't show up on any recruiting service searches that I know of.

David Lara 10 years, 5 months ago

Yeah, i think the biggest thing we can take from the LB situation this year, and from what the coaches are saying, is that we are gonna have a deep linebacker squad that will continue to evolve in its lineup as the season progresses. That's not a bad thing. The more i hear about it the more i get the idea that there are good, solid players here and it's tough for anyone to stick out and be a favorite for the job just yet. As long as the D-line is as improved as everyone expects, our LBs will NOT be a weak spot.

And i agree completely with Maxhawk, Mvjayhawk and Dubya that Brooks will be a bonus and, even if only by conference play, a huge factor at that position. The thing that sticks out the most with his reel is that he is a BLOCK DESTROYER. He blows up FBs, neutralizes and takes out linemen, makes a mess out of the running lanes, makes great reads on the screen, etc. Great defensive football savvy. He's also the most experienced guy we have at that position. He will be a force for sure, and even with the D1 learning curve, a guy with that kinda motor won't be playing catch-up for long. Of course the coaching staff isn't gonna anoint anyone who is coming in behind the curve and having to miss camp for family issues, but i'm pretty sure in their gut they know what this guy will mean to the team at some point this season. Really looking forward to seeing what he can do.

Rivethead 10 years, 5 months ago

I think Brooks missed one day of camp (media day - so it was highlighted). I think he'll be fine and I do think we'll see him on the field. His reel looks great, but it's almost all highlights against running plays or screen passes. Unfortunately, we play football in the Big 12 where spread offense passing attacks are the primary threat. I hope Vernon can adjust and has talent in coverage. I think he will/does.

I'm really surprised that Drew Dudley was switched to FB in the Spring (why do we even have a FB position?) and then switched back to LB. Sounds like he's doing well.

troutsee 10 years, 5 months ago

I'm still anxious to see Angus get physical....the way he did when he carried the ball. If he can get the pass coverage down, he could be a beast on defense. I'm pulling for you, Angus.

Kman_blue 10 years, 5 months ago

I noticed Steven on the roster last year, but didn't know much about him. Looking at his official bio, found here: http://www.kuathletics.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/johnson_steven00.html , he looks like he was really good in high school. I'm not sure why he's not listed on any recruiting site or what happened with him out of high school, but it looks like football was really big at his high school and school district. They even have their own website. Apparently the coaches thought enough of him that they put him in, in 2 games last year as a true freshman. Maybe he could be a real dark horse standout in the coming year(s)?

vmwskywalk 10 years, 5 months ago

wiseapple- Good point on Brooks. A block destroyer is something that we desperately lacked last year. Our LBs were really good but we rarely took on the block head on.

Chad Dexter 10 years, 5 months ago

"And i agree completely with Maxhawk, Mvjayhawk and Dubya that Brooks will be a bonus and, even if only by conference play, a huge factor at that position. The thing that sticks out the most with his reel is that he is a block destroyer. He blows up FBs, neutralizes and takes out linemen, makes a mess out of the running lanes, makes great reads on the screen, etc. Great defensive football savvy."

wiseapple, those are all great observations. I was going to post pretty much the same thing. One thing that I would add is that Brooks is a very good (and vicious) tackler. I came away very impressed by those videos.

stravinsky 10 years, 5 months ago

I lived on Steve Johnson's floor last year, and although I don't have any inside information on his football instincts, I can definitely say that without a doubt he is one BIG dude. That man is absolutely ripped. He's bigger than almost every lineman I played with in high school, and it's all muscle. Pretty nice guy as well. I hope he gets some playing time.

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