After spending last season with the defensive linemen, Toben Opurum can already tell this year’s group is improved.
“Really, from top to bottom,” the junior outside linebacker said, “the D-line has gotten faster.”
It’ll have to be if the Jayhawks hope to perform well against the massive offensive linemen of the Big 12.
During an era when many defensive linemen weigh 300 pounds or more, KU only has one defensive lineman listed on the roster above 300 pounds (John Williams). Every other defensive lineman weighs 285 pounds or less.
“You’ve got to use what you have to your advantage,” Opurum said. “If you’re one of the bigger defensive lines, you can overpower people a lot, bring pressure to the quarterback and use that to your advantage. Whereas we have to use our speed as the advantage.”
KU defensive coordinator Vic Shealy, who has implemented a switch to a 3-4 defense this season, said he isn’t worried about his defensive linemen being undersized.
He used senior defensive tackle Pat Dorsey as an example. Though Dorsey — who is out six to eight weeks with a broken foot — is only listed at 6 feet, 273 pounds, in the summer he bench pressed 500 pounds, with coaches telling him not to put any more on the bar because of a potential injury risk.
Dorsey squatted around 700 pounds.
“He’s not without strength,” Shealy said. “I’d much rather have a guy like that at 285 than to have a guy who’s at 330 who just doesn’t quite have all the athletic pieces.”
Lighter but quicker is actually what KU prefers in its linemen, at least at this point.
One doesn’t need to look any further than junior defensive tackle Williams. During the 2009 season, Williams — he was an offensive lineman — was listed at 309 pounds.
He’s actually dropped weight since becoming a defensive lineman. Last year he was 290; this year, he’s listed at 305.
“Understand that we could have told John to get 330 pounds, but now you become an unathletic guy that gets cut off and reached all day,” Shealy said, “so now if he can’t maintain his gap integrity, then the puzzle starts to break.”
Earlier this month, Shealy said some familiar names — Williams and Richard Johnson (6-3, 283) — had stood out as the front-runners at nose tackle.
At the two defensive end spots, the Jayhawks will be looking more to their youth.
Sophomore Keba Agostinho (6-3, 253) returns after playing all 12 games a year ago, while fellow sophomore Kevin Young (6-4, 285) should contribute at both tackle and defensive end.
Red-shirt freshman Pat Lewandowski (6-6, 265) — who was expected to miss two to three weeks after suffering a leg injury on Aug. 8 — also impressed at the beginning of practices.
“He’s grown as a player, and he’s really taken what coach (Buddy) Wyatt has taught him and applied it on the field,” Opurum said. “A lot of guys, it’s kind of hard to take from practice to scrimmages or from practices to games, but he uses the techniques as much as he can, and it’s really helped him.”
In addition, true freshman Ben Goodman (6-3, 245) has been a pleasant surprise for Shealy at D-end.
“We’re a little bit thin if you want to look at injury exposures that exist,” Shealy said. “But we’re hopeful we stay healthy, and if we do that, I think we’ll be competitive.”
The Jayhawks will look to get more pressure on the quarterback this season, as their returning defensive linemen (not including Opurum) combined for just 2 1/2 sacks a year ago.
This offseason, Johnson said the D-linemen had watched film, gone over different techniques and worked to improve their athleticism in hopes of increasing their sack numbers.
“Defensive line always has something to prove,” Johnson said. “We’ve just got to come out and make plays and prove people wrong.”