Monday, October 12, 2009


Defensive disparity damning


Notre Dame viewed Toben Opurum as a fullback, not a featured back. Others grew excited at the prospect of him playing linebacker. Kansas University told him he could be a running back.

Ohio State was interested in Bradley McDougald as a safety. Kansas told him he could be a receiver and compete immediately for the spot vacated by Dexton Fields. Things couldn’t have worked out better for McDougald, who is on the field when KU uses four receivers and leaves the tight end on the bench.

Winning those two recruiting battles hints at how the current imbalance on a Kansas football team that is so good offensively, so shaky on defense, could grow to this extent.

Kansas is at the point it’s starting to go against heavyweights in recruiting, and to win the battles the players must find something they like better about what Kansas offers than about what the school with a longer football tradition offers.

Very often, that means the chance to play on offense, viewed by many young players as more exciting, especially the way Kansas plays it.

The quality of recruiting has inched up each year during Mark Mangino’s reign, but it still hasn’t reached the point of recruiting a deep pool of starter-quality defensive players. The margin for error in recruiting decisions remains too small, and clearly some mistakes were made.

Iowa State’s massive offensive line exposed KU’s front seven in a way that raised the question of whether the defense has Big 12 agility and strength and a nasty-enough demeanor. Devising a scheme to stop from getting burned on wide receiver screens will help, but talent is such a big part of the issue.

“We know what the issues are, and we have to get them corrected on the practice field,” Mangino said after Saturday’s 41-36 survival against Iowa State. “I think our defense as a unit has really got to toughen up a little bit. We really just have to toughen up and really get a little bit of a mental edge to us.”

The sort of mental focus and edge displayed by true freshman Opurum, a battering ram of a running back and pass-blocker?

“You bet,” Mangino said.

Opurum doesn’t quite have the speed to turn the corner to become a serious break-away threat, but other than that, he has the whole package.

He’s smart, mature, focused, physical, powerful and sure-handed.

He picked up Iowa State blitzers in a most physical manner.

“You can’t show that you’re intimidated,” he said afterward. “If you deliver the blow instead of taking it, it leaves them intimidated. They’re not going to want to come in as hard as they did before. It definitely helps that you can send a message as a blocker.”

Even with Jake Sharp out, the offense is humming, and it’s a good thing it is.

“You don’t like to win that way,” Mangino said. “You like to have balance to your team. ... I prefer not to have shootouts, but if we’ve got to shoot it out, we’ve got to shoot it out.”


FlaHawk 10 years, 3 months ago

The article got a great start with the building of why offense is easier than to build defense recruits.

What the article lacks is a solution or evolution from this premise.

I like Keegan's theory that KU is a victim of it's own success on offense with recruits, but if this is true then why are Talib and Gordon the two most widely acclaimed KU NFL players. KU does not have anyone with offense backgroud making even ripples in the NFL.

Reesing, Sharp and Meier are great Big XII caliber players, but they do not have much NFL upside. Briscoe nd Stuckey do have potential NFL careers in their future.

Keegan does not transition well from his premise so eliquently drawn in the first alf of the article to the actual facts of today's team. This clumsy and loses forccus of the recuiting article and the defense problems KU has.

jhawk23 10 years, 3 months ago


Your analyses of KU players' NFL likelihood are false. Sharp and Meier do have NFL-level talent. In case you haven't been paying attention, both are freak athletes. Sharp is the fastest guy on the team, running the 40 in the 4.2s. That's right, sub-4.3. And if you haven't noticed what Meier can do on the field, then you're either not much of a KU fan, or you haven't been paying attention.

jumpinjayhawk 10 years, 3 months ago

Can't we just let Kerry Meier play both ways. I bet he could step in tomorrow and do better than anyone else we have a t DB. He can flat out play ball. I tell you what, after watching our D on Saturday it couldnt hurt. Come on Mark, I know you read these, put Kerry on D.

Fred Davis 10 years, 3 months ago

Actually Fla Hawk, offensive tackle and former All-American Anthony Collins is starting at right tackle for the 4-1 Cincinnati Bengals and is a big reason for the Bengals' improved line play. And he's another reason the Chiefs are in the situation they're in, considering he didn't go until the fourth round last year, but KC passed on him in the 3rd and 4th rounds when it was clear they needed O-line help.

And if you don't think that Meier has NFL ability, you're out of your mind. Do you realize exactly how athletic a person has to be to make the switch from Division I quarterback to a Division I wide receiver in one of the best conferences in the nation? Not to mention he plays the WR position at an elite level? Kerry Meier could start on any team in the country. SEC, Pac-10, anywhere. Meier is an absolute specimen, and if Jordy Nelson can make it in the NFL as a 2nd Rd pick, Kerry Meier isn't going any later than the 4th. He's smart, has great hands, can play emergency quarterback, has great size, you get the picture. He's a gamer, and he's proved it throughout his KU career. I'd love for the Chiefs to get him.

But to Keegan's point, that's the problem, outside of Stuckey, there's nobody, and I mean nobody, with Meier or Briscoe's ability on the defensive side. As far as Sharp goes, I think he's got the CFL in his future. I don't buy that he runs 40s in the sub 4.3 range. I just don't see it. He's fast, but if he was running 4.2s, I think he'd be a bigger gamebreaker than he is, but, he really hasn't had a chance to show it yet this season. He might make it on special teams in the NFL, but he's going to have to stay healthy, which has been a problem for him at times in college.

I agree with Keegan, KU needs to do better on the defensive side, and in the meantime, I want to see Vernon Brooks.

Rivethead 10 years, 3 months ago

I think Jake Sharp's injury history will be a factor in him not getting drafted. NFL teams just don't want to take a chance on injury-prone players.

troutsee 10 years, 3 months ago

Meier is as good or better than Jordy Nelson. I made this statement two years ago and almost got my head torn off by other comments. Meier will play pro ball. Sharp will not play pro ball, at least not in this country. Stucky had one great game, against MU last year. So far this year he has not shown me much. He's a wonderful human being and a very good player. I am not sure he will be drafted in the NFL. A lot will depend on how he does the rest of the year. Our D is lacking play makers. The absence of speed is glaring, especially at the LB position. Brooks was supposed to be a head hunter coming out of juco. He must be lacking in other linebacker ingredients. Actually, I thought our D line played better than the rest of the D last weekend. I guess MM did too.

Jonathan Briles 10 years, 3 months ago

I think we will have a number of players get drafted but not too many of them will actually make a team. For instance I think that at the combine if Sharp runs a fast enough 40 time he will get drafted in a lower round. NFL people have too much of an obsession with speed and Sharp has plenty of it. I just dont think he can do enough with the speed he has and may not make the team. Stuckey actually has been doing fine. He really does have great speed but has been looking a little slow on the field and a few times he has been looking to hard to force a fumble and has let someone gain another 10 yards doing so. Another thing to look at is that he plays safety. He can get screwed over by the LB or CB a lot and he made some sure tackles saturday. Vernon is just trying to learn the system still. It takes time to adjust to D I and he has had the least amount of time out of anyone.

mdfraz 10 years, 3 months ago

Keegan, did I read your "mistakes were made" comment correctly that you mean to say by allowing/promising Opurum and McDougald to play on offense that we made mistakes????????? We made mistakes by snagging four star, immediate impact players that were heavily recruited by several of the college game's blue blood programs? Those are mistakes I will GLADLY watch the coaches make.

Do we need more help on defense? Absolutely, especially at LB it seems. But if you notice, last year's class was extremely heavy on talent in the secondary and D line (see Prinz Kande, Dexter Linton, Darian Kelly and about 5 defensive ends). If we can pull talent by telling them they can play the position they prefer (as long as it meets the team goals as well, which it has for Toben and Bradley), I'm all for it.

How maybe the best recruiting class at KU is a "mistake" I can't quite figure out. Sometimes guys don't pan out, and that's they way it goes. We did try to bolster our weaknesses on the D line and LB, but the JUCO's haven't been able to adapt yet. Will they ever? We don't know, but it wasn't a "mistake" to do what we did.

Warren 10 years, 3 months ago


I belive that what Keegan is trying to say is that both Notre Dame and Ohio State made the mistake of telling the players (Opurum and McDougal) that they wouldn't play the position they want to play. KU did, so they got them. The article doesn't flow well, but he wasn't saying that KU's mistake is getting those players.

Marcia Parsons 10 years, 3 months ago

mdfraz: I think he was saying that mistakes were made in the selection of DEFENSIVE players, not offensive. He said: " still hasn’t reached the point of recruiting a deep pool of starter-quality defensive players. The margin for error in recruiting decisions [for defensive players--Ed.] remains too small, and clearly some mistakes were made." I take that to mean some who were counted on to make immediate impact were unable to.

Sparko 10 years, 3 months ago

Rewatching the Iowa State game, the defense did not play so badly as you may have thought. Catlett is the real deal--he took a sure interception away from Thornton, and made some outstanding grabs. Iowa State converted 4th Down situations, and some 3rd and longs with outstanding plays. Aside from the Special teams gaffes, that were wind assisted, ISU played a near perfect game. They are going to either fold up their tents now or embarrass some people. That was a QB who finally mastered the new offense--and his scrambling out of pressure was huge on 3rd and longs. ISU's defense was not great either--but Reesing can make anyone look ill-prepared.

number1jayhawker 10 years, 3 months ago

In defense of Stuckey, remember he took a late cheap shot in I think was the UTEP game. Right in the leg. This could still be causing him some pain and limiting his speed. Also noticed Saturday his left arm had some kind of contraption on it. It wasn't just a wrap like most usally wear to stop turf burn.

jhokfan 10 years, 3 months ago

Keegan, I believe your assessment of the situation is completely correct.

Now can the LJW change the Late Night banner to the football game this Saturday? At the risk of offending much of Jayhawk Nation I could care less about basketball practice.

“Practice, are we talking about practice!”

A. Iverson, 2006

mdfraz 10 years, 3 months ago

I could be reading it wrong, but I've looked it over a couple more times, and in that paragraph Keegan seems to be referring to KU's recruiting, not other schools. It still seems to me that he's saying our margin for error is small, and impliedly (from what I can see) he's saying we may have made mistakes by telling these guys they can play offense when we lack talent on defense. I might not be right, but that's how I've read it every time I've looked at it.

Hawktacular 10 years, 3 months ago

Sparko, ISU is not a good football team. They do not have a good offense. You are dreaming if you think Saturday was a result of anything other than our defense sucking.

Ryan Mullen 10 years, 3 months ago

I don't have a subscription to Jayhawk Slant. Is Brad Beal coming to Late Night?

InfiniteJ 10 years, 3 months ago

I've thought KU's defense has been pretty sub-par from the get go, including the Northern Colorado game, but no one else really cared because KU was winning and winning usually hides a lot of gaps in the armor, especially with all the offensive fire-power that KU has. I don't think KU's D is really as bad as we think it is right now, that being said, I also don't think KU's offense is as good as everyone thinks it is. I just don't see how the 'Hawks are going to outgun most of the teams left on the schedule......Colorado and K-Suck? Probably, but those are on the road, so who knows?. OU, Texas, and Tech? No way. It's probably a toss up with Nebraska and best.

Dirk Medema 10 years, 3 months ago

number1jayhawker - In defense of Stuckey, remember he took a late cheap shot in I think was the UTEP game. Right in the leg. This could still be causing him some pain and limiting his speed. Also noticed Saturday his left arm had some kind of contraption on it.

Not recalling the cheap shot at UTEP, but Stuckey has been playing with the brace on his left arm for most of the year. I seem to recall it being a hyper-extended elbow, and the brace keeps it from going too far again. It surely can't help his play.

That being said, I had visions of him chasing down and striping Chase during the one play against ISU. He still has plenty of speed, and has saved several TD's inside the 10.

wolfy 10 years, 3 months ago

Our defensive problems have more to do with not playing assignment-sound, hard-nosed football than with a lack of raw talent. The guys are over-reacting out there -- creating seams for offenses to exploit -- instead of just making the simple, tough football play. Sure, the talent isn't quite there yet, but playing good team defense (without mistakes) should get us enough stops to give our offense a chance to win almost every game.

As for eventual pro potential... Opurum, yes; Briscoe, yes; Meier, maybe; Hawkinson, maybe; Stuckey, maybe; Sharp, no.

justanotherfan 10 years, 3 months ago

Our defensive problems stem from both personnel and scheme.

I can't address scheme well because I haven't been able to sit and watch a full game against good competition to analyze the coverages we are running and the mixture of blitzes, etc. I will say that we had a very similar thing happen last year, and they switched the scheme in the middle of the year (after the Texas Tech disaster), with mixed results.

As for personnel, right now, all of our four star and higher recruits are on offense. Our best players are Reesing, Meier, Briscoe, Sharp and Stuckey. I think everyone would agree on that. I'd argue that same quintet was our best five last year. The Orange Bowl year, our best five was Talib, Reesing, McClinton, McAnderson, Meier. Having two BIG TIME defensive players made all the difference in the world, especially since one was a lineman (to draw double teams and provide pressure) and the other was a shut down corner (to virtually eliminate one side of the field on passing downs).

Right now, we are relying on two and three star athletes to form our defense, and expect them to stop the four and five star athletes that the better teams in the Big XII will put out there on offense. On top of that, just like last season, we have no defensive lineman that merits a double team on a regular basis. To get pressure, teams know we almost have to blitz. Add to that the fact that we have solid corners, but no one that would qualify as a shutdown corner.

So we have a pretty league average d-line, league average linebackers and a league average secondary. Our only real playmaker defensively (Stuckey) plays safety, which makes him a nonfactor on underneath stuff if he stays back, or exposes our average corners to one on one situations if we walk him up.

As for NFL aspirations - Briscoe (2nd round), Meier (2nd or 3rd), Stuckey (6th, 7th or undrafted free agent), Sharp (camp invitee)

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