In the past at KUsports.com, we've used a section of our Gameday preview called "5 Questions" to give a player or coach's perspective leading up to a Kansas football game. Much of the time those question-and-answer interactions have to be edited down to five, when they could go on much longer.
So beginning this week I figured we would try something different, using the old format but expanding it into something that should be better.
This week, ahead of Saturday's KU game versus Central Michigan (3 p.m., FOX Sports Net), I sat down with junior starting linebacker Keith Loneker Jr. to talk about what proved to be a difficult season opener for him, playing for the first time since his father, former KU offensive lineman Keith Loneker Sr., died this past summer.
Loneker also provided some insight on his development as a player and how KU's linebacking unit performed in Week 1 victory over Southeast Missouri State.
Before the SEMO game you tweeted out the No. 74 in honor of your father. How emotional did that day end up being and how did you feel like you handled it?
“It was a little bit more emotional than I thought it was going to be. I don’t think about that stuff. But, yeah, it was just kind of tough. That’s the first game my dad’s not been able to watch or see. So sitting in the hotel I thought about it a little bit, but I had a bigger task at hand, going out and playing for the defense — had to play well, you know, you can’t have that stuff overriding it. But, yeah, I thought about it a little bit.”
Were you surprised by how difficult it was to separate emotions once you got onto the field or can you feed off those emotions?
“I think you can build off it, but, surprisingly, yeah, you’ve got to — it’s a Big 12 football game, it’s a Power 5 football game — you’ve got to push some of that stuff away. But I used some of it as momentum. It’s just a feeling, everybody who’s played football knows it, once you get that first play out of the way, you’re in a groove. All the nerves and everything was put away.”
What were you all as linebackers most pleased with when you went back and looked at the video?
“There was a lot. Coach (Todd) Bradford did a tremendous job, as well as Coach (Clint) Bowen. They did a crazy-good job of pulling up plays of what they thought (SEMO) was going to run. And we executed those plays that we worked in practice all week very well. Very well. And we got them out of what we thought was comfortable for them and they had to go to some stuff we didn’t think they were going to run. When we did that we even executed those plays.”
You and Joe Dineen go back so far, playing football together growing up in Lawrence as well as at Free State High. Do you ever get competitive with tackle totals after a game or performance grades?
“We take a couple of jabs at each other about who’s going to have more tackles, you know. But it’s something that we both know we’ve got to play solid for each other to do well. It’s all competitive — competitive love, though.”
How much do you all as linebackers feel like it’s really on your group to shore up the run defense, because that was an area last year that was an issue?
“Huge point of emphasis. With our D-line being as stout as they are you don’t want to be that weak link, and the linebackers are a big part of the run game. Always have been, always will be. That’s something that we put a lot of emphasis on in the offseason and we felt like we executed well, but it’s only one game, so we’ve got a lot to go.
Pro Football Focus had a stat this summer about how good you are as a pass defender at inside linebacker. What did you think of that?
“I don’t pay too much mind to that. Some of these stats they find now are crazy. So I don’t know what all goes into that. So I just continue to work on what Coach Bradford talks to me about. We work pass coverage a lot during the week and we’re going to work on it a lot being that our opponent is Central Michigan. So I just keep working on it every day and I try to pick the brains of the DB’s, because those are the best pass coverage guys on our team. So as much as I can do that, and just keep on improving.”
Do you feel like pass coverage is a strength for you, though?
“I believe it’s a strength. It’s something I don’t think is where I want it to be yet, but, yeah, I could use it as a strength.”