The Kansas football team’s coaches and players knew the moment that Karon Prunty left the program via the transfer portal earlier this summer that the cornerback position would look vastly different for the Jayhawks this fall.
Now that the team is into its second week of preseason camp, cornerbacks coach Chevis Jackson is starting to get a clearer picture of what to expect from his group.
“They’ve shown me a lot of great things. They’re all athletic, they all run around to the ball, they’re all getting better day by day,” Jackson said. “We’re focusing on getting better and technique. As a group they compete against each other, but they also elevate each other, too. So I’ve got a good group, and I think we’re constantly getting better.”
When Prunty, KU’s breakout star as a true freshman starter at corner in 2020, departed in June, it left a young position group with even less experience. Head coach Lance Leipold and his staff addressed that to some extent this summer, bringing in graduate transfer Jeremy Webb, who played previously at Missouri State and Virginia Tech.
But the rest of KU’s corners are underclassmen, and only sophomore Duece Mayberry was a regular contributor as a reserve in 2020.
While Prunty’s departure — he transferred to South Carolina before leaving that program this past week to reenter the portal — ultimately could result in the defensive staff, led by coordinator Brian Borland, asking more of young players such as Mayberry, true freshman Jacobee Bryant and redshirt freshman Ra’Mello Dotson this year, Jackson thinks the corners entered preseason camp ready to prepare for just that.
“Those guys know what we’re up against every year with this Big 12 Conference and the great athletes that we’ve got in this conference,” Jackson said. “They know they’ve got to excel every day, so we practice for that.”
A 6-foot-4, 205-pound super-senior, Webb joined the Jayhawks just before preseason camp began, coming off a senior year at Missouri State in which he started nine of the Bears’ 10 games and made three interceptions.
“He’s a great addition,” Jackson said of Webb. “He just fell right in line. He comes in, he gives that room leadership, because he has had prior playing experience.”
The hope for the younger cornerbacks who inevitably will have to play on game days is that they’ve improved noticeably over the course of the offseason.
“The game is constantly changing. Your technique has to continue to get better every day, and you still have to keep up with your film work and everything like that,” Jackson said of the development process and his expectations.
Mayberry spent his true freshman season a year ago backing up Prunty and another veteran starter, Elijah Jones. Mayberry played in all nine games for KU and finished with 11 total tackles, three pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.
Jackson indicated the secondary will need much more from Mayberry as a sophomore.
“It’s a big jump for him,” the assistant coach said. “And I think that experience from getting those game reps as a freshman are going to help him significantly this year.”
During preseason practices this month, Jackson said he has seen instances that make him think Bryant, a 6-foot, 170-pound freshman, possesses “elite” talent.
“But he’s still got to work on the little things,” Jackson added. “He’s coming along very well, as well as the rest of them.”
Dotson, a 6-1, 180-pound redshirt freshman, appeared briefly in three games in 2020. But Jackson thinks Dotson too has made a “big jump” since then.
“So he’s in the rotation, he’s competing, he’s flying around, he’s getting better,” Jackson said of Dotson. “As a group we’re all pushing for the same result and that’s what it is — we’ve all got to get better every day.”