As the start of the college football season inches closer by the minute, here at KUsports.com and the Lawrence Journal-World we are counting down to kickoff by each day revealing a new KU player on Benton Smith’s list predicting the top 11 Jayhawks for the 2019 season.
Les Miles will lead the Kansas football team onto the field for the first time on Aug. 31 versus Indiana State.
Switching positions proved to be a serious test for Hasan Defense a year ago. A cornerback at heart, Defense gladly made the move the Kansas coaches asked him to, though.
Playing safety came with some road bumps and miscues. And somehow Defense still led the Jayhawks with seven pass breakups and tied Shakial Taylor for the team lead with three interceptions.
Now that the 6-foot, 193-pound senior from Jacksonville, Fla., is back at corner, he feels poised for his best season in a KU uniform.
New defensive backs coach Chevis Jackson decided to put Defense at the right cornerback spot ahead of spring football, and once Jackson did, other veterans in the secondary noticed the difference.
Said senior Bryce Torneden: “Hasan moving back to corner, he’s balling out.”
It was at cornerback as a sophomore in 2017 where Defense led Kansas with nine pass breakups and also picked off two passes, while playing his first year at the FBS level, after transferring in from Kilgore College (TX) as a three-star juco corner in the Class of 2017.
And it’s at corner where Defense now plans to show he can flourish as a playmaker.
“It’s been fun,” he said of returning to his old spot. “It was a great experience playing safety, loved being able to work with (Clint) Bowen. But I’m happy to be back at corner. Things are back feeling like I’m at home.”
The safety experiment also seemed to sharpen Defense’s leadership abilities and drive him to step up his game. He’s always been comfortable voicing his opinions, but adjusting to a new spot also helped him recognize he would need to perform to speak with authority.
“It’s hard to lead when you’re kind of battling your own battles, you know what I mean?” Bowen said, recalling the lowest points of Defense’s junior year. “The first rule of leadership is you have to be able to do your job. Nobody follows the guy who can’t do their own job. So as he got more comfortable doing his job it started to show.”
Of course, Defense kept moving in that direction as he returned to cornerback. Plus, he said his appreciation for his fellow corners has helped stave off complacency.
“I’m not in a position where I feel comfortable, like being able to slack off or anything, because I have Elmore (Hempstead) behind me, and he’s working every day,” Defense said. “I look at him sometimes, and I’m like, ‘Damn, maybe he should start.’ So I’ve got to work harder.”
With just a few months of college football left to play, Defense is more invested and mature than ever. His new head coach appreciates what he’s seen out of the senior corner, as well.
“He’s a physical man,” Miles said. “Yeah, I think we’ll like him.”
Predicting the top Jayhawks for 2019 season
As coaches tend to following any game — win or lose — Kansas football coordinators Doug Meacham and Clint Bowen saw both the positives and negatives of the Jayhawks’ season-opening victory over Southeast Missouri State when they reviewed footage after the fact.
Both spoke with media members Thursday, revealing their evaluations of a 38-16 victory.
Offensive coordinator and receivers coach Meacham began by going into the details of a solid, albeit imperfect, debut from junior quarterback Peyton Bender.
After first offering his opinion that Bender — 23-for-37 passing, 364 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions — looked “good,” Meacham immediately turned to his quarterback’s second-quarter interception as his first talking point.
“It was a great decision. That’s where his eyes should’ve been. That’s really the biggest part of all of it is him being on the right guy and triggering the right guy,” Meacham began, on Bender’s first pick, targeted for Jeremiah Booker. “He triggered the right guy and it was just a horrendous throw, which is unusual for him, because he hits the bull’s eye pretty good. He’s pretty accurate for the most part, throws a pretty nice deep ball. I don’t have an explanation for that. He just threw it way behind the guy.”
Other than that blunder, Meacham thought Bender played well, and said redshirt sophomore receiver Chase Harrell could have done a better job preventing the second interception, in the fourth quarter.
“Our receiver didn’t go up and play strong with the ball, so that was on him. But you look at the stat line and you see two picks,” Meacham said. “I think we left some points out there.”
The first-year KU coordinator went on to give examples of some other mistakes that prevented the Jayhawks from steamrolling SEMO.
“Ben (Johnson) dropped that one, had a chance to go to the crib right there. No. 3 (Harrell) makes, it’s No. 3 on ESPN,” Meacham said of Harrell’s one-handed TD grab in the first half, “and then he drops one that hits him straight in the bread basket. I don’t know what to tell you. So there’s probably another 100 yards of receiving and two more touchdowns.”
On another play, Meacham said Bender overthrew Ryan Schadler on a seam read, because the slot receiver ran a hook when he should’ve continued on a deep pattern.
“It looks like Peyton is making another bad throw when in actuality the receiver hosed him. He didn’t run a correct route. If he stays high on that route there’s another touchdown,” Meacham said. “We were close to having a better game, but it’s just a couple things. You always have four or five plays every week, even if you win or lose, there’s always that handful of plays you wish you had back.”
The former TCU and Oklahoma State assistant went on to explain passing game misfires get “magnified” but other problems inevitably show up on video, too.
“(Fans) don’t see a right guard miss a nose guard on an inside run. They see the other part, though,” Meacham said. “But I thought (Bender) played pretty good in terms of operating and having his eyes in the right spot and checks and all of that stuff. Did good.”
Kansas only rushed for 73 yards (2.9 a carry) on 25 attempts versus SEMO in its debut.
But Meacham said he wasn’t worried about KU’s progress in that aspect of the offense.
“I would have a problem with our run game if I was running into a nine-man box all day long. Then I would be upset. It’s just like, Would you get a canoe and go upstream?
“And I get it. People do it,” Meacham added. “But that’s what they do. Ohio State and LSU, that’s what they do. They’re gonna pound it and force-feed it and that’s what they do. That’s not necessarily what we do. I’m not concerned about it, no.”
First look at KU’s new cornerbacks
Week 1 also marked the KU debuts for starting cornerbacks Hasan Defense and Shakial Taylor, both of whom played at the junior college level in 2016.
Bowen wasn’t ready to thoroughly praise them, though, after Defense made five solo tackles and broke up two passes and Taylor contributed two solo stops and a pair of pass breakups.
“They did OK. We’re obviously going to face a lot better competition, though. No discredit to SEMO,” Bowen said. “But they didn’t get in there and panic. They held in there and competed and were assignment-sound. I don’t know that they were 100 percent technique-sound, but they did challenge and they did compete.”
The Big 12’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. didn’t have a monster statistical day by his standards in the opener. The all-league pass-rusher came away with three total tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries.
Of course, much of SEMO’s offensive game plan revolved around preventing Armstrong from wreaking havoc.
Bowen said he began seeing KU opponents give that much attention to the star D-lineman during his sophomore season.
“That was kind of the norm from what we were seeing out of him last year,” Bowen said of double-teams and schemes designed to limit Armstrong. “By Week 7 or 8 last year, it wasn’t too hard to figure out he was pretty good by then. What we got on Saturday was pretty much what we got all of last season.”
While sometimes SEMO simply called rushing plays away from Armstrong’s position, Bowen said there was more to the relatively small statistical output than that.
“We didn’t get a lot of drop-back pass game. We hardly got any, and when we did there was attention paid to him,” Bowen said. “That was kind of SEMO, their plan anyway. I think they did a nice job of understanding what their strengths are, and sitting in the pocket and throwing the ball downfield wasn’t going to be one of their strengths going into that game, so they didn’t do it. If you’re not good at it, don’t do it.”
Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.
Every February on National Signing Day, Kansas football coach David Beaty likes to play a little game with his assistants after all those letters of intent become official, and ask them who they think the “dark horse” of the class will turn out to be.
In 2017, when Beaty conducted his survey on the matter, the name that popped up most often belonged to cornerback Hasan Defense.
A Jacksonville, Fla., native who spent his first college football season at the juco level, with Kilgore College (Texas), Defense wasn’t a highly touted high school recruit, but if he produces the way KU coaches think he has the potential to, the 5-foot-11 corner might end up being the most important newcomer on the roster this fall.
Cornerback qualified as the position with the biggest questions heading into the offseason, because KU wasn’t returning anyone of note at the spot. The sophomore with an appropriate last name, Defense enrolled at Kansas in the spring semester, and soon began showing some of the skills that have him in position to start in his Kansas debut.
“This guy's a talented dude,” Beaty said. “We hope that great things are in store for him, and I know he's going to compete like crazy.”
After going through spring ball and offseason training, Defense became one of the players to stand out in the secondary during preseason camp practices, according to defensive coordinator Clint Bowen.
Ask KU’s top returning receiver, Steven Sims Jr., though, and he’ll tell you Defense began making his case to coaches during spring practices. The Jayhawks’ receiving corps might possess the deepest pool of talent on the roster in 2017, so cornerbacks had to step up or be embarrassed by the likes of Sims, Daylon Charlot, Chase Harrell, Ryan Schadler, Kerr Johnson Jr., Jeremiah Booker and others.
“It helps them,” Sims said. “Coach (Kenny) Perry always tells us that we’re making them better and they’re making us better. So it’s just, you get a lot of different type of corners. Hasan’s kind of a bigger corner. He’s more physical than some of the other guys.”
According to Charlot, the former Alabama wideout, Defense was the defensive back who gave him the most trouble throughout offseason practices and workouts.
“He makes me work every play,” Charlot said, echoing Sims’ assessment that Defense plays the position with a physical edge. “I make him work, too. … Whenever we’re about to run a route, he knows he has to be on his A-game or Coach Perry’s going to chew him out.”
Defense doesn’t get to take any reps off at practices, and it could help him become a consistent producer in KU’s secondary in his first season with the Jayhawks.
KU football's top 25 difference-makers
After five weeks and 15 practices, one of the most crucial stretches of the Kansas football team’s offseason has come to a conclusion.
Spring ball is over, and the Jayhawks won’t reconvene for full team drills in helmets and pads with David Beaty and his position coaches again until August. It’s all strength and conditioning work with new assistant Zac Woodfin until then.
So who among KU’s many talented returning players had the most productive spring? Coaches don’t typically like to shower their pupils with too much praise, because they don’t want any individual thinking he’s in a position to ease up and stop improving.
But Kansas staff members over the past several weeks did give out player of the day honors for the team’s practice sessions, shouting out a representative from offense, defense and special teams.
The parameters for the acknowledgments, one can assume, are based around focus, consistency, effort and on-the-field impact. But you also can bet there was a classic Beaty “earn it” element to those practice awards, too. Veterans who have been around the program longer and established themselves as reliable and trustworthy tended to have their names and faces pop up on KU football’s Instagram account, the team’s vehicle for announcing the awards. For example: neither of the program’s transfers from Alabama, receiver Daylon Charlot and offensive lineman Charles Baldwin, picked up a player of the day nod.
Using the coaches’ public awards platform, we can get a sense of which players pleased KU coaches the most this spring. In total, 11 different Jayhawks won multiple practice distinctions, but the unofficial player of the spring distinction for Kansas goes to linebacker Joe Dineen, the only player to pick up the award three times.
Dineen missed most of the 2016 season due to a hamstring injury, but the good news for KU is he looked as fast and effective as ever this spring. What’s more, Dineen still has two years of eligibility remaining, thanks to receiving a medical redshirt for this past year.
As strong as KU’s defensive line projects to be in 2017, Clint Bowen’s defense needs play-makers behind the biggest Jayhawks up front to keep the program on its upward trajectory. Dineen is capable of being one at linebacker, with sophomore safety Mike Lee leading the secondary behind him.
Ten other Jayhawks won player of the day on two occasions: sophomore tackle Hakeem Adeniji, junior All-Big 12 defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr., junior receiver Jeremiah Booker, sophomore cornerback Hasan Defense, junior defensive end Josh Ehambe, sophomore receiver Chase Harrell, senior receiver Bobby Hartzog Jr., senior tight end BenJohnson, junior running back Taylor Martin and senior kicker Gabriel Rui.
The names that stand out most from that group are Defense and Harrell, because they’re un-tested underclassmen.
Cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry needs Defense, who played his freshman season at Kilgore College (Texas), to play like a starting Big 12 defensive back immediately, because KU lost two starters at the position. A solid spring is an ideal jumping-off point for the aptly named Defense as he continues his offseason. If he stood out against KU’s receivers, that’s an excellent sign.
Conversely, offensive coordinator and receivers coach Doug Meacham is in charge of the unit’s most talented position group. The man calling plays for Kansas already has Steven Sims Jr., Daylon Charlot, LaQuvionte Gonzalez and Ryan Schadler at his disposal. But none of those targets have Harrell’s size. The redshirt sophomore from Huffman, Texas, is 6-foot-4, strong and proved in KU’s spring game he can get up high and make spectacular catches. Harrell seems on target to have a breakthrough season and KU’s offense needs all the weapons it can get while it continues to play catch-up with the rest of the Big 12.
These standouts and others have more chances ahead of them to improve over the course of football’s lengthy offseason, but it’s interesting to see which Jayhawks the coaching staff chose to commend during the spring.
KU football’s spring players of the day
Practice No. 1
Offense: Jeremiah Booker, jr., WR
Defense: Derrick Neal, sr., CB
Special teams: Gabriel Rui, sr., K
Practice No. 2
Offense: Hunter Saulsbury, so., OL
Defense: Josh Ehambe, jr., DE
Special teams: Taylor Martin, jr., RB
Practice No. 3
Offense: Taylor Martin, jr., RB
Defense: Hasan Defense, so., CB
Special teams: Joe Dineen, jr., LB
Practice No. 4
Offense: Ben Johnson, sr., TE
Defense: Keith Loneker Jr., jr., LB
Special teams: Tyler Patrick, jr., WR
Practice No. 5
Offense: Reese Randall, jr., RB
Defense: Hasan Defense, so., CB
Special teams: Kyle Mayberry, so., CB
Practice No. 6
Offense: Hakeem Adeniji, so., OL
Defense: Osaze Ogbebor, jr., LB
Special teams: Bryce Torneden, so., S
Practice No. 7
Offense: Ryan Schadler, jr., WR
Defense: Dorance Armstrong Jr., jr., DE
Special teams: Gabriel Rui, sr., K
Practice No. 8
Offense: Evan Fairs, so., WR / Hakeem Adeniji, so., OL
Defense: Maciah Long, so., DE
Special teams: Ryan Renick, RS-fr., TE
Practice No. 9
Offense: Steven Sims Jr., jr., WR
Defense: Joe Dineen, jr., LB
Special teams: Dorance Armstrong Jr., jr., DE
Practice No. 10
Offense: Bobby Hartzog Jr., sr., WR
Defense: Daniel Wise, jr., DT
Special teams: J.J. Holmes, jr., DT
Practice No. 11
Offense: Chase Harrell, so., WR
Defense: Isi Holani, sr., DT
Special teams: Bobby Hartzog Jr., sr., WR
Practice No. 12
(Walk-through day before spring game — no awards given)
Practice No. 13 — spring game
Offense: Ben Johnson, sr., TE / Peyton Bender, jr., QB
Defense: Josh Ehambe, jr., DE
Special teams: Cole Moos, sr., P
Practice No. 14
Offense: Jeremiah Booker, jr., WR
Defense: Joe Dineen, jr., LB
Special teams: Chase Harrell, so., WR
Practice No. 15
(Results not available)
Player of the Day Standings
B. Johnson (2)