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Kansas football position units: No. 1, defensive ends

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Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) puts Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) on the ground after recovering a fumble during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) puts Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) on the ground after recovering a fumble during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Kansas head football coach David Beaty talks in superlatives about recruits on signing day but once they arrive on campus, he tries to bite his tongue so as to keep complacency at bay.

At least that’s how he approaches most players. Beaty knows Dorance Armstrong well enough to know that if complacency ever came near the rising junior defensive end’s space he would deliver it a punishing stiff arm, much like the one that flattened huge Texas running back D’Onta Foreman toward the end of Armstrong’s fumble return on which he changed directions with the smoothness of a polished running back.

Beaty doesn’t worry about Armstrong getting a big head because he knows how straight it’s screwed on and knows he is a relentless self-improvement hunter. So when ESPN.com interviewed Beaty about Armstrong during the offseason, the coach didn’t hold back.

“Dorance is a stud. The fact that he didn’t make All-American last year was shocking to me,” Beaty told ESPN.com. “He got robbed. (He) is unbelievable. He’s a freak. He is Myles Garrett, and Myles is a freak. This guy’s a beast.”

Beaty recruited Garrett, the first selection in last month’s NFL draft, to Texas A&M.

Garrett stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 271 pounds. Armstrong is 6-4, 246, so he might decide to use his senior year to get a little bigger and even stronger, or he might decide to enter the NFL draft after three seasons, as did Garrett. Armstrong has the perfect answer when asked about that potential decision. He says he wants to experience winning as a college football player before even thinking about that. And when he talks about the future, he talks about two seasons, not one.

"Everybody on this team knows that next year we’re going to be better and the next year after that we’re going to be even better than that,” Armstrong said.

If the Jayhawks were to open the season with victories against SEMO and a tough Central Michigan squad at home and then end its road losing streak against Ohio to start the season 3-0, it’s possible Memorial Stadium would be sold out for the Big 12 opener, Sept. 23.

And if Armstrong is a huge factor in the Jayhawks earning more victories in the opening three weeks of 2017 than it did in Beaty’s first two seasons, Beaty might not stop at talking about his All-American worthiness. Maybe he’ll hit the play button on the fumble recovery against Texas, freeze the frame that shows him sending Foreman off his feet with the stiff arm and then ask: “Does this remind you of any trophy?”

Defensive players seldom are mentioned in Heisman Trophy talk, but it's not absurd to think that Armstrong, should he make another big step forward, could merit mention.

Armstrong had 20 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries last season and became the first Jayhawk to earn unanimous first-team All-Big 12 honors. He came to Kansas weighing less than 215 pounds and has had no trouble putting on weight while maintaining his speed.

In contrast, sophomore Isaiah Bean has had trouble moving the needle on the scale and was listed at 6-4, 220 during the spring. He’s really quick, fast and explosive, but needs to exercise more discipline in several areas to fulfill all the requirements to practice, play, study and condition to maximize his potential the way Armstrong has.

Josh Ehambe has done well in all the areas where Bean needs to improve. A fourth-year junior, Ehambe is 6-3, 247 and has changed his body for the better. A former linebacker, he has made the adjustment to defensive end and emerged from the spring as a first-string player. Ehambe validated that status with a big spring game and has a shot at establishing himself as a two-year starter.

Depending on how well he makes the transition from junior college to the Big 12, Willie McCaleb (6-2, 240) could work his way onto the depth chart and hard-working, 6-3, 285, fifth-year senior Kellen Ash brings experience in reserve. Maciah Long, if he continues to develop, could fill the role played so well last season by Cameron Rosser.

This concludes the 10-part, position-by-position ranking of KU football. Links to stories on the rest of the positions:

2 - Outside receivers

3 - Defensive tackles

4 - Running backs

5 - Linebackers

6 - Quarterbacks

7 - Safeties/nickel backs

8 - Inside receivers/tight ends

9 - Cornerbacks

10 - Offensive linemen

Comments

Brock Wells 2 weeks ago

That's a great picture... hope it's hanging somewhere in or around Memorial Stadium.

Dorance "Stiff Arm-strong" for Heisman!

Benny Armstrong 2 weeks ago

Hopefully as has been discussed in previous articles the depth and skill on the Defensive Line particularly with the Defensive Ends will be enough to help hide some of the deficiencies we will have with our young secondary. Getting pressure on the QB and forcing them into quicker decisions will go a long way to helping win games this season. Definitely something to watch in those early games against the non-con opponents to see how our push is up front against teams we should be able to out match physically.

I hope Dorance is able to improve on his stats from last year and get the respect nationally that he deserves, but also know he very well could have lower overall numbers this season, but be just as impactful on the field. Teams will have to game plan against him and if they choose to put a tight end on his side or chip with a back, we have enough depth and talent up front that it'll only give additional space for our linebackers or open up things for the other end of the line to get pressure. Bowen must be absolutely delighted at the schemes he can put together with these guys up front.

The season can't get here soon enough. RCJH!

Micky Baker 2 weeks ago

If these rankings are accurate, there is some definite improvement over the past couple of seasons, particularly at QB and WR. Cozart is gone and I wish him luck, but he was got a good fit as a QB for this squad. I hope the O-line shows significant improvement, and if they are the worst on the team then pretty much all of the units ranked improved.

It could be a much more entertaining kind of football this fall at Kansas.

Dirk Medema 2 weeks ago

e-ville even has us 9th among the OL groups. And it's still a pretty young group. Lots of room for growth.

Brett McCabe 2 weeks ago

Let's put the Prosecutor in on some goal line offense formations, he clearly knows how to get it done.

Jim Stauffer 2 weeks ago

Many continue to beat the drum about a weak secondary. I still say it is the most talent we have had in the secondary since Talib moved on. I think our secondary will surprise many and part of the reason will be the pressure from this group on both the running and passing game. If we stop the run better than in the past, the passing game will be exposed when the other team has no option but to throw it.

Dirk Medema 1 week, 5 days ago

"most talent we have had in the secondary since Talib" is a bold statement.

I think most people commenting on the DB's being a weakness lead with the objective observation that it is a very young secondary with very little experience, and virtually none returning. Even the little experience we have (Mike Lee) has less than 1 year. Yes, he will make some devastating hits, but he has also been prone to misses that result in TDs as well. A chunk of that goes back to experience, or the lack thereof.

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