Kansas football top 25 difference-makers: No. 1, DE Dorance Armstrong
Even those who come to Memorial Stadium to honor the Orange Bowl team of 10 seasons ago and don’t know much about the current roster surely know this much: Junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong is the team’s best player.
Armstrong earned unanimous first-team All-Big 12 honors as a sophomore, when he had 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss, and is this season’s Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
He’s KU’s best defensive player since Aqib Talib, who is in town this weekend for a reunion with teammates and to see his name go up on KU’s Ring of Honor, along with that of former teammate left tackle Anthony Collins.
Talib and Armstrong have distinctly different personalities. Talib, an extrovert, can be on the loud side. At times, he treated some team rules as if they were made to be broken. Armstrong is on the quiet side and a stickler for following rules.
Yet, they do have a common trait. Armstrong and Talib are obsessive students of the game, forever intent on becoming better at their different but linked crafts. Put Armstrong on that 2007 team that went 12-1 and who knows what that record might have been. Put Talib on this KU team and bowl talk would gain credibility.
Listening to coaches and teammates talk about how Armstrong approaches his job calls to mind the way those who coached and teamed with Talib at Kansas viewed him.
“In practice every day I kind of notice that he’s very attentive to the details,” reserve center Jacob Bragg said of Armstrong. “Like when other people are going, you can kind of watch him studying their mistakes and he can pick up on it pretty quickly. I feel like he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes other people do because he pays attention, just because he’s such a good student of the game.”
Really good players can’t be called great unless they make teammates better. Talib did that by covering so much of the field and by knowing where everybody on the defense was supposed to be on every play and not being afraid to challenge someone out of place or off in space.
Armstrong makes the secondary better by getting to the quarterback in a hurry. He soaks up so much of the attention from opposing offensive lines that he makes the rest of the defensive line better.
“He’s a damn good player,” Bragg said. “He pushes the D-line to do better. Any time you have a player who’s on a high level and gets recognition, everyone wants to get where he’s at and it just makes everyone around him better. I know our offensive tackles are going to be a lot better because of him.”
Mesa Ribordy was recruited out of high school as a 245-pound tight end from Louisburg and as a third-year sophomore has worked his way into becoming a second-year starter at center who weighs 305 pounds. He knows dedication when he sees it.
“I think the most important thing for Dorance is as talented as he is he still has one of the best work ethics on the team and I think that’s what’s going to take him to his full potential,” Ribordy said. “He’s not one of those guys who has tons of talent but won’t work. He gives it his all every day.”
Right tackle Antione Frazier, a sophomore, drew consistent praise from all levels of the coaching staff for his commitment to improvement during the offseason.
“He’s a different guy,” Frazier said. “He’s a very different guy and I used to think I was a different guy when we worked out, among my peers, but he’s a different guy. He sticks out. He doesn’t really say too much, but he works. If someone’s not working, I’ve seen him plenty of times call out whoever’s slacking. He doesn’t stand for it.”
Nobody had a greater impact than Armstrong on KU’s biggest of 14 victories in the eight post-Mark Mangino years. He had 11 tackles (nine solo), three TFLs, two sacks, and forced and recovered a fumble in the 24-21 overtime victory against Texas. His stiff-arm of massive Longhorns running back D'Onta Foreman on a fumble return captured the game in one play.
It was an unforgettable performance and made Armstrong an easy choice for postseason/preseason honors, which he uses for motivation to improve.
“I’m ready for the season to start so I can prove to people I am the defensive player of the year,” Armstrong said. “It was never a goal. I never thought of it. It never came on my mind. And then once I was told that, I said, ‘OK, now I’ve got to go get that along with the rest of the awards.' Then I rolled my sleeves back up and got to work.”
First-year defensive line coach Jesse Williams appreciates the many ways that Armstrong makes his job easier.
“When you walk in you want your hardest worker to be your best player not your hardest worker to be your worst player,” Williams said. “It just helps me as far as when I’m pointing out examples on film and even off the field, how to carry yourself, how you’re supposed to do things, doing things right. I think he’s a great model for the young guys and for the new guys coming in.”