Advertisement

Monday, June 29, 2009

Manning the line

Defensive tackle Johnson focused on getting to QB

Kansas University defensive tackle Richard Johnson Jr., center, and linebacker Huldon Tharp, right, fill plates in the serving line with volunteer and Lawrence resident Dave Kelsey, left, on Sunday at the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen.  Johnson started eight games on the defensive line last season for the Jayhawks before being hampered by an injury.

Kansas University defensive tackle Richard Johnson Jr., center, and linebacker Huldon Tharp, right, fill plates in the serving line with volunteer and Lawrence resident Dave Kelsey, left, on Sunday at the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen. Johnson started eight games on the defensive line last season for the Jayhawks before being hampered by an injury.

Advertisement

photo

Lawrence Journal-World

Kansas University defensive tackle Richard Johnson III, center, joins hands with Lawrence resident Barb Smith, left, prior to serving food to the needy at the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen (LINK) Sunday, June 28, 2009. To the right of Johnson are linebacker Huldon Tharp, defensive end Tyrone Sellers, running back Toben Opurum and defensive back D.J. Beshears.

KU football players give back

Some Jayhawk football players gave back to the community by serving meals to those less fortunate.

It has been just four months since Tom Sims joined the Kansas University football staff as defensive line coach, but in that time, he has had no trouble making his expectations for the 2009 season clear.

The task charged to members of his unit? Get to the opposing quarterback — and do so often.

“That’s the big thing this year,” said sophomore defensive tackle Richard Johnson Jr., who on Sunday afternoon joined teammates D.J. Beshears, Toben Opurum, Tyrone Sellers Jr. and Huldon Tharp at the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen (LINK), a meal program that serves many homeless people. “Coach Sims, that’s the thing he stresses: getting to the quarterback.”

In recent years, this has been a bit easier said than done for the Jayhawks. Perhaps as a result of the high coaching turnover — Sims marks the fourth person to hold the title of defensive line coach at KU in the past three seasons — and level of conference-wide talent, the Jayhawks haven’t finished higher than fifth in the Big 12 in team sacks since 2005.

Not exactly cause for alarm, but not particularly noteworthy, either.

With a locker room full of experienced linemen, however, Kansas is hoping to take a step forward in 2009.

In addition to Johnson, defensive end Jake Laptad is back after a seven-sack sophomore season to help anchor the line. So, too, are tackles Caleb Blakesley and Jamal Greene, although the loss of James Holt, a linebacker who late last season lined up in a three-point stance and finished his senior campaign with a team-high 10 sacks, leaves a sizable hole.

It’s no secret that a strong pass-rush can have a ripple-effect throughout the rest of the defense. A hurried quarterback is typically a mistake-prone quarterback, and a defensive line that can handle its business up front without outside help allows the linebackers and defensive backs to stay sound in their assignments.

Heading into next season, then, intruding on the personal space of opposing quarterbacks is something the Jayhawks hope to do a lot of.

“After you make a few plays (in the backfield), you can tell the quarterback’s got those second thoughts in his head,” said Johnson, who started Kansas’ first eight games in ’08 before suffering an undisclosed injury that limited him throughout the second half of the season. “He knows somebody’s coming for him. So as long as you keep the pressure on them, it’s all good for the defense.”

Though the amount of scrimmage-type activities during summer conditioning is largely limited — with the exception of some 7-on-7, in fact, it’s essentially non-existent — Johnson has seen enough over the past month to feel confident in the promise of this year’s defensive front.

On Sunday, he spoke highly of the incoming freshmen, a list that includes ends Sellers and Olathe North graduate Kevin Young, while singling out Quintin Woods — a defensive end transfer from Bakersfield (Calif.) College who originally signed with Michigan out of high school — as a player who is quickly making a name for himself within the program.

“He’s going to cause some havoc for some quarterbacks this year,” Johnson said, smiling.

As for himself, Johnson hopes an added year of experience — coupled with the tutelage of former NFL lineman Sims — will translate into a successful campaign in ’09.

“The game gets a little slower for me (each year),” he said. “I feel like I can play at top speed without second guessing myself. You’re kind of robotic when you’re younger — thinking about all the plays and what you’re supposed to do — but the older you get, as long as you keep your technique and keep learning, you’ll be all right.”

Comments

troutsee 10 years, 6 months ago

If our front 7 play well, we could win it all.

jayhawkr34 10 years, 6 months ago

Is this summer draggin or what, i cant wait til fb season!!

MitchumMan 10 years, 6 months ago

Great article! I'm hoping these boys have a stellar year because if they do, KU will be taking that North Title. Rock Chalk!!!

mdfraz 10 years, 6 months ago

Thanks, Dugie, for the article. I know there are a lot of us out here who have been clamoring for more about the team, and the last few days have been a marked improvement in coverage. We all know Mangino is tight lipped, but there are plenty of potential stories out there if you look hard enough, and we would be grateful to continue to hear anything about the football team as the season approaches.

KGphoto 10 years, 6 months ago

This is the topic I've been waiting for. The D-line should be the strength of the team this year. They have experience, talent and depth. Speaking of depth, what happened to Parish? I haven't heard his name, and I thought he would be the star of this line with his size. He was a big-time prospect wasn't he?

And ever since Quigley flipped sides, I've been dreaming of him blitzing the QB. He's built like Holt. He's faster, and he may even hit harder. With his penchant for massive collisions, Big 12 QBs should have their head on a swivel.

I just hope the coaches put all their pieces together, just right. Cuz a play making defense would certainly put KU in the driver's seat.

Nice one D.A.

Dirk Medema 10 years, 6 months ago

Nice article. Was that a 2 for 1 visit? It is nice to see the team involved with helping in the community.

It is also interesting to hear about 7 on 7 drills from a team planning to play a 4-2-5 D. With NU, CU, and even MU talking about running more this year, my guess is we're still going to need some 4-3 D. Quigley and Woods are the 2 that I am most excited to see this year due to the unknown and potential.

If the O-line can provide even average blocking, it is hard to imagine the rest of the O not being the strength of the team in '09 - especially if Dez decides to show up for all of the games. The closer the other parts come to matching they're play will determine how far we go.

kw11b2p 10 years, 6 months ago

Thanks for the story........I've been going through KU sports withdrawls. This news when coupled with the Vernon Brooks addition (All-American JUCO linebacker) is really starting to get me excited for the upcoming season. Keep the stories coming and here's to a KU BIg Twelve Championship.

Rock Chalk

Kman_blue 10 years, 6 months ago

I love it! Almost every day I come on here and find another KU football story or related item. This is AWESOME! Keep them coming! I too am excited to hear that Quinton Woods is already making a name for himself. I hope the rest of the guys can stay healthy the entire year this year. It was very obvious that injuries were hampering our defense quite a bit last year in several key positions.With the added depth we have this year, hopefully we won't have that problem. I'm looking forward to a great season for this team and Mr. Johnson and the rest of the boyz on D are gonna bring it!

Commenting has been disabled for this item.