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Keith Loneker Jr. shapes up as key to stopping the run

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Kansas' Keith Loneker Jr. lines up across from Texas quarterback Shane Buechele and running back D'Onta Foreman during the first quarter of the Jayhawks' 24-21 win over the Longhorns on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas' Keith Loneker Jr. lines up across from Texas quarterback Shane Buechele and running back D'Onta Foreman during the first quarter of the Jayhawks' 24-21 win over the Longhorns on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Sophomore safety Mike Lee is the lone returner in the five-man secondary, so opponents will look to shred Kansas with the pass.

Or will they?

The Jayhawks have allowed higher than a five-yards-per-carry average and ranked outside the top 100 among 128 FBS schools in that statistical category. So unless the Kansas linebackers can do a better job of shedding guards with big size advantages, teams might try to hammer away with the run, rather than have quarterbacks under duress from a strong pass rush exploit an inexperienced secondary.

The emergence of 6-foot-2, 225-pound Keith Loneker, Jr., who came on late last season as a sophomore and had a strong spring, should help. Loneker played a huge role in the 24-21, overtime victory against Texas and looked faster and more impressive in pass coverage during the spring game. He has that fearless trait necessary to play linebacker and it comes in handy against the run.

Coming out of Lawrence Free State High, where he excelled as both a receiver and linebacker, Loneker graded out as either too small or not quite fast enough to merit a Big 12 scholarship, just the sort of football player his father's coach, Glen Mason, relied on heavily during his successful tenure at Kansas. Rather than walk on at Kansas, Loneker attended Baker University in nearby Baldwin City, earned freshman All-American honors, and then transferred to KU, paying his own way his first season and earning a scholarship for the next two

The fast, 6-1, 230-pound junior Joe Dineen, Loneker’s high school teammate, joins him as a first-team linebacker. Dineen missed enough of last season to maintain the year of eligibility and heads into junior season two years older than his last full season, when KU allowed 5.67 yards per carry, ranking 106th. The added experience and weight should enable Dineen to do a better job of shedding tacklers and making more stops closer to the line of scrimmage.

Lee (six unassisted) and Dineen and Loneker (each with three unassisted and two assisted tackles) led the team in stops during the spring game.

The Jayhawks did improve by half a yard and 17 spots in the national rankings in yards-per-carry allowed, but must do better than that this coming season, especially considering the defensive line projects to be among the best, if not the best, in the Big 12.

Based on the spring game, Osaze Ogbebor, a 6-1, 220-pound junior from Lorton, Va., and 6-1, 215-pound redshirt freshman Dru Prox from Kaufman, Texas, are the first linebackers supplying depth. Maciah Long has moved from linebacker to defensive end.

Comments

Andy Tweedy 5 months, 1 week ago

I don't remember which game it was, it was the first game after Dineen got hurt I think, Loneker was getting destroyed and knocked down seemingly every play. I agree his play got a lot better later in the season, but it really needs to be better. This defense might be pretty good, especially if the linebackers come to play.

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