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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Getting defensive: Kansas defense out to prove it’s improved

Kansas University linebacker Huldon Tharp grits his teeth as he takes off during pass protection drills on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012 at the practice fields. At left is linebacker Ben Heeney.

Kansas University linebacker Huldon Tharp grits his teeth as he takes off during pass protection drills on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012 at the practice fields. At left is linebacker Ben Heeney.

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By now, the veterans on the Kansas University defense have heard just how bad the Jayhawks’ defense was during the past two seasons more times than they would care to remember.

With a new season — and, really, a second chance — just two days away, the gameplan for each of the guys who endured the rough times is simple.

“We definitely have something to prove,” said senior safety Bradley McDougald. “Prove that we’re not actually the worst defense in the country. We’re going to start there.”

Whichever way you slice it, KU’s 2011 season was historically bad. That was particularly true on defense, where the Jayhawks ranked dead last in Div. I college football in total defense and surrendered 516 yards per game, 68 touchdowns and nearly 6,200 yards during a 2-10 season.

“The numbers don’t lie,” said junior linebacker Huldon Tharp. “And that’s why this first game is huge for us. If we’re gonna be a good defense in the Big 12, we have to come out and dominate the teams we’re supposed to dominate.”

To a man, the Jayhawks believe that’s possible. Tharp was not the only defensive player who kicked around the word “dominate” this week, and others went as far as to say they believe KU’s 2012 defense could be among the nation’s best. Naturally, the players — and to a greater degree their coaches — want to see proof of that somewhere other than the practice field, but senior co-captain Toben Opurum said he did not think a huge opening week was required to put to bed the bad memories from the past two years.

“I believe we’re past it,” Opurum said. “The confidence on this team is kind of unreal, to be honest. You would think we’re coming off a championship-level season.”

Added junior cornerback Tyler Patmon: “It’s embarrassing, but, at the same time, it’s motivating because, in our minds, we feel like we’re not even close to the worst (defense) in football, and we want to send that message in this first game.”

The way they can do that is simple, according to Tharp.

“Keep their yardage down, three-and-outs, turnovers,” he said. “When it comes down to it, if our offense isn’t playing well, our defense should be able to keep us in the game. That’s what good defenses do.”

The Jayhawks know that because, at times, as rare as it might have been, they’ve seen it.

“We showed up,” McDougald said. “We made great plays. We made three-and-outs against the best. But then we gave up the worst plays at the worst times.”

While KU’s defensive leaders say the entire team is locked in on its new goals, the other common belief among them is that Saturday’s 6:06 p.m. kickoff against South Dakota State cannot get here fast enough. It’s time for sacks, interceptions and the scoreboard to stand in for sound-bites.

“Media make statements,” KU coach Charlie Weis said. “We just worry about trying to win games. ... I’m really excited for our team, to see how they’re going to play, more than anything else. We’ve been talking about this stuff forever, and it’s time to play and get an opportunity to see where we are.”

It’s called ‘Jayhawk’

The former KU coaching staff never publicly settled on a name for it, but Weis already has. The offensive formation that incorporates a direct snap to someone other than the quarterback — known most places as “Wildcat” — will not go by its more popular name at Kansas.

“I call it ‘Jayhawk,’ for obvious reasons,” said Weis, when going over the scouting report for the SDSU offense Tuesday.

It remains to be seen how Kansas will incorporate the “Jayhawk” formation into its offense this season, but Weis has no shortage of options in the formation, as running backs Tony Pierson and James Sims, wide receiver Kale Pick and reserve QB Michael Cummings all could be the trigger man.

Pregame rituals?

Throughout the preseason, Weis clearly has stated his belief that Saturdays belong to the players. But that does not mean that he is devoid of a couple of his own pregame rituals.

“I point up to the box my wife is in so that I don’t get into any trouble,” he joked on Tuesday. “I find out where that is — I already have one person assigned to tell me where that is — so when I walk off the field I can point up to her. If I don’t point up to her; let’s just take it from there.”

Other than that, Weis said he typically tries to stay out of the way and lets the players get focused however they see fit.

“One thing I do try to do is try get to every player during the warm-ups to wish them good luck for the game,” he said.

Running back rotation

Expect three, perhaps four, running backs to receive carries in Saturday’s season opener. First-string tailback Tony Pierson figures to get the majority of the work, but Weis has been open about his desire to incorporate junior Taylor Cox, as well as sophomores Brandon Bourbon and Marquis Jackson when the opportunities present themselves.

“We’ll start out the game with two,” said Weis, referring to Pierson and Cox. “But (will) definitely (use) three and maybe four as the game goes on.”

Just win, baby

The new bottom line of KU football is a single simple word that has just three letters — win. But that does not mean the Jayhawks will not have other goals throughout the course of each game. Weis said the offense, defense and special teams all have boards posted with 10 weekly goals designated for each

“The No. 1 goal for all three is winning,” Weis said.

Beyond that, the boards track goals such as yardage totals, points scored and points allowed, penalties and turnovers — both for and against. In that last category, the KU offense’s goal always will be to finish a game with no turnovers.

“Why would any offensive coach set a goal for turnovers higher than zero,” Weis said.

Comments

Mike Barnhart 1 year, 7 months ago

You're new to the comment section, so I'll cut you some slack. You've fallen into the "words are good" trap when actually, succinct comments will better help you make your point. For instance:

We've had puny, weak athletes for years. Hiring Holsopple is going to make a huge difference! Maybe as much as hiring Weis!

Same point - less words. Good advice for everyone!

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kunavyjayhawk 1 year, 7 months ago

Anyone who has watched a lot of KU football cannot dispute the fact that for years the preparation of our athletes in the strength and conditioning front has been behind the top programs in the country. Even during the 2007 season we were largely undersized but had a fortunate schedule and the team got on a roll and played with reckless abandon. We had the benefit of a shutdown cornerback and a fairly speedy group of linebackers to make up for the lack of sheer physical presence. The athletic department recognized the deficiency and built a world class strength facility, however the results in the athletes were not realized because no facility in the world will make a difference without the hard work of motivating guys to use it and also having the expertise to tailor the strength program to not only individual positions but also to individual athletes. One only has to look across campus to Coach Hudy to see the results of that type of strength training. Based on all of the reports it finally looks like the football program has a strength coach who has the expertise, the passion, and the personality to drive athletes to maximize all of the physical tools they have been gifted with and utilize the world class facilities they are fortunate enough to train in. Perhaps in football more than any other sport the attitude that athletes step off the bus with is huge. A big portion of that attitude comes from how they have been prepared physically to compete. Some call it confidence, or some call it swagger, but the bottom line is a football player has to feel like he is the baddest dude on the field and he can physically dominate the guy lined up across from him. Coach Holsopple has put our players in that position. As much as I love coach Weis as a hire and I think he is a great football mind who will win us a couple of games this year based simply on his x's and o's. I think coach Holsopple and his staff's contributions will be just a huge for the Jayhawks this year.

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Tony Bandle 1 year, 7 months ago

What the heck??!! The day before the first game of a new era in Kansas Football and no story??!!.....come on, LJW, you're better than that!!!

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JHWKDW 1 year, 7 months ago

Lets do this Kansas! It is a rebuilding season, but I will enjoy the better coaching and much better playing due to the improved coaching!

Well regardless Win Lose or draw Im right behind you! I think Coach Weis will make us proud again. It will take a bit of time but I have confidence in this staff. Wow what a difference a year will make!

Well Rock Chalk Jayhawks in Football in 2012.

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CrimsonAndBlueForLife 1 year, 7 months ago

No way Kansas will do any worse this year than last year. But I don't see Kansas making it to a bowl game this year because of the talent. 5-7 (2-7 Big 12) will be their record.

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Randy Bombardier 1 year, 7 months ago

Glad to see a lot of you fellas recognize our talent. Speaking of which I was watching high school highlights of Montel Cozart and was noticing this receiver, no. 5 and was thinking, wow, that guy is a play-maker. It turns out that the play-maker was none other than our Triple Play Trey Parmalee. I believe we have some serious talent on this team. I may have to spring for the All-access channel again. Maybe I can find a good wifi location with adequate streaming capability.

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ksjayhawker3791 1 year, 7 months ago

I'm trying to remember, did KU throw out of the "wildcat" formation once last year?

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clevelandjayhawker 1 year, 7 months ago

Do they still do the Enter Sandman video with the F-15 Jayhawk blowing up the oppents helmet?

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Mike Barnhart 1 year, 7 months ago

The Orange Bowl team was unbelievably disciplined - they almost NEVER missed an assignment! Last year was a clinic on stupid football plays.

Sean Payton has left one message for his Saints team, "DO YOUR JOB!" It's also a perfect message for the Jayhawks.

Do your job banner: http://media.nola.com/saints_impact/photo/11358141-large.jpg

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Tony Bandle 1 year, 7 months ago

Keys to an improved defense [not rocket science here]::

  • Simplified scheme to insure that everyone is clear on their assignments.
  • Swarm to the ball and tackle, tackle, tackle
  • Hit hard...make them pay for every block, yard or catch
  • Substitute freely to maintain stamina to compensate for talent shortages
  • Field position...make them go 70 yards, not 30.
  • And the single most guaranteed solution...ball control. Have the offense keep the ball out of the opponents hands.

Obviously, these goals will be challenging but it is truly the blueprint for long term success. Afterall, the only direction for the Jayhawk defense is UP!!!!

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clevelandjayhawker 1 year, 7 months ago

The D should be better in part due to the fact that Chuck 3rd and Long is gone. If Dayne can get a first down 30% of the drives our Def wont be on the feild as much, with a couple of breathers and everything else that is going on we will see improvement in the number of yards allowed. Is it saturday yet?

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TheSportsDon 1 year, 7 months ago

I would expect the defense to be improved. Last year dead last in most statistical categories? It doesn't take a Dave Campo to improve on that! All I can suggest to the defense this year: tackle someone, anyone.

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Mike Barnhart 1 year, 7 months ago

Can't say this enough, "COACHING MATTERS!"

The Big 12 was WAY over Turner Gil's head! In addition, his defensive staff was a train wreck. This staff is a huge upgrade to last years clowns. That'll make a huge difference right there. In addition, we'll start SIX transfers and get solid contributions from others.

Last year's history!

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Mike Hart 1 year, 7 months ago

Kman_blue: thanks for the laughter. I really needed that:

"I'd say "check" for talent level as well. Sure, it could always be better, but I'd say it's better than the majority of other BCS schools".

Really? The majority? Wow what a remarkable turnaround for 6 different faces on defense.

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ccarp 1 year, 7 months ago

Did Newell post some bulletin board material yesterday or what?

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eastcoasthawk 1 year, 7 months ago

Ready for this season to start! Play hard, play smart and be relentless! Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

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nuleafjhawk 1 year, 7 months ago

“Why would any offensive coach set a goal for turnovers higher than zero,” Weis said.

I love this dude.

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OakvilleJaybateNightmare 1 year, 7 months ago

Lets go beat these mother * by 80 points. The kids will see that and buy in even more knowing what they're being taught is correct.

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Oseashawk 1 year, 7 months ago

Go Team...a winning start this weekend!! All the best ..

RCJH

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jhawkln 1 year, 7 months ago

As HCTG would say- B-E-L-I-E-V-E!

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jayhawk1991 1 year, 7 months ago

I think there will be a lot of improvement for our defense this season. With a competent coaching staff and some confidence, they should surely make big strides towards improvement. ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK!

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