It may be a little too early to tell which linebackers are going to play the most snaps for the Kansas University football team this fall. But those who were here this spring said they already had figured out what they had to do to earn a spot.
“I’m pretty sure that it takes physicality and mental toughness,” sophomore Michael Reynolds said. “Mostly mental toughness because you gotta know your plays and know how to execute correctly so you get the job done.”
Getting the job done will be different this year than it has in the past. While most of KU’s veteran linebackers spent the past two seasons working out of a 3-4 set, this season’s 4-3 base personnel grouping figures to have one fewer linebacker on the field. That means more competition for playing time. It also means fresher bodies throughout the games.
While the specifics of which players will play where won’t be ironed out until August, defensive coordinator Dave Campo this spring explained each linebacker position within KU’s new scheme.
“I think they are a little bit different positions,” Campo said of the middle linebacker and outside linebacker positions. “Especially (against) the spread offense.”
So how do they differ?
“The mike (middle) linebacker is what you would call a true linebacker,” Campo said. “He is a guy who can play tackle-to-tackle, and, obviously, we would like some guys who can run and go sideline-to-sideline.”
The outside backers, Campo said, ideally would be guys with even more speed.
“Really, your weak-side linebacker is almost like a defensive back because he is in the box sometimes, and sometimes he is out of the box,” Campo said. “So they really are not interchangeable.”
There are a couple of guys who seem to be locked into specific roles.
Incoming freshman Schyler Miles, for example, is a true middle linebacker. He has good speed, good size and sports the position’s physical style.
“He’s all business,” Campo said. “When he’s talking to you, he looks you right in the eye. And you can build around a guy if you think he’s got the right mentality, and I think he may be that guy.”
Notre Dame transfer Anthony McDonald is another player who appears to be more of a middle linebacker, although Campo said McDonald may be able to play on the outside, too. Huldon Tharp, Tunde Bakare and Ben Heeney, with their above-average speed, figure to stay on the outside, as does Reynolds, who, along with senior Toben Opurum, is working at the hybrid position between defensive end and Sam linebacker. Junior Darius Willis, who played mostly in the middle last season, was penciled in as the team’s starting middle linebacker prior to spring ball.
“The things you do with a 3-4 and a 4-3 are exactly the same,” Campo said. “It’s just a different person doing the job. In one case it’s an outside linebacker, and in the other case it’s a defensive lineman. But you’re lined up with so many gaps, and you’re taking care of all those gaps.”
In addition to hard work and mental toughness, one thing that could determine who plays and how often is speed.
“I think that there’s a few guys that can run,” Campo said. “I think they can probably run a little better than some just because of the fact that they’re a little smaller than other guys in the league.”
“I think we run OK,” he said. “Not great, but I think that’s something that we’re going to be working toward.”
Ragone on watch list
He has yet to play a down at Kansas University and has not played for his current head coach since 2009.
Tuesday, KU senior Mike Ragone, a transfer from Notre Dame, was one of 33 tight ends named to the Mackey Award Watch List, which annually targets and identifies the top tight end in college football.
Ragone, a 6-foot-4, 262-pound senior from Cherry Hill, N.J., transferred to KU after playing five seasons at Notre Dame. He appeared in 37 games for the Fighting Irish and recorded 11 catches for 109 yards for his career, including six receptions for 60 yards during the final season he played for Weis.
He missed the 2008 season because of an ACL tear and nearly all of last year after suffering a similar injury during the second week of the season.
Known mostly for his blocking and physical toughness throughout his college career, Ragone was ranked as the No. 2 tight end in the country out of high school, according to ESPN’s Top 150.
This season, Ragone will compete for playing time with returning tight ends Jimmay Mundine and Trent Smiley and fellow newcomers Charles Brooks and Jordan Smith.
Recent KU commitment Colin Spencer, a 5-10, 170-pound cornerback out of Woodrow Wilson High in Dallas, lived up to his billing as one of the top athletes in the Class of 2013 with a solid showing at The Opening in Oregon last weekend.
One of the most prestigious offseason camps in the country, The Opening featured most of the top prospects from the Class of 2013 and, at the Combine portion of the event, Spencer finished with the sixth best score of all of them.
This showing comes just four months after Spencer delivered the best performance at the Nike Football SPARQ event in Houston.
In addition to the timing numbers that have made Spencer somewhat of a hot commodity on the recruiting trail, the future Jayhawk also shined during 7-on-7 drills, where he played 120 snaps and had just six passes thrown his way.
Spencer committed to KU in early June and, not long after returning from The Opening, he told Jon Kirby of JayhawkSlant.com that his commitment remained solid.
“Every reporter or fan would ask me what this means in recruiting,” Spencer said of his strong performance last weekend. “They all asked what happens when other schools start calling. I told them every time I committed to Kansas for a reason. There were a lot of players there going to places like Ohio State or USC and I would tell them the reason why I chose Kansas.”
At the time of his commitment, Spencer listed the chance to play for Weis and Campo as his top reasons.