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Posts tagged with Top 25 2017

Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 2, DT Daniel Wise

Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise takes off his helmet as he listens to instructions during practice on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.

Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise takes off his helmet as he listens to instructions during practice on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. by Nick Krug

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.

No one on the Kansas football roster has started more games for the Jayhawks than redshirt junior Daniel Wise (18). So the massive, fun-loving defensive tackle from Lewisville, Texas, is one of the few people in KU’s locker room who can get away with giving star defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. a hard time.

Wise pounded the interior of so many opposing offensive lines, causing so much trouble in 2016, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound tackle might say, it made Armstrong’s job that much easier on the edge.

Be honest, Daniel. Aren’t you at least partially responsible for Dorance’s success, and his Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year status?

“I let him know,” Wise responded, while laughing. “I trash-talk to him every now and then. I tell him I should get half the award. But, nah, I’m just kidding. He earned it all himself. He went out there and got all those sacks and TFL’s. He put in the work and he deserves it.”

While Armstrong racked up 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks as a sophomore, Wise made 10 takedowns in the backfield of his own while contributing three sacks, helping him land on the Associated Press All-Big 12 second team.

With two stars setting the tone at the line of scrimmage, Wise is eager to see just how productive KU’s defense can become this fall.

“Excited to see what we have and put it together, come against SEMO, our first game of the season,” Wise said. “And obviously still building. A lot more to build and a lot more to prove to people who don’t know us and people who don’t know what’s going on.”

Wise and Armstrong already have the most of the Big 12’s attention, so it’s easy for them to hold each other accountable and inspire the best out of their teammates on the defensive side of the field. What’s more, Wise and Armstrong feed off of each other, because they know the whole team needs that from them.

“It’s a brotherhood. So it’s not that hard,” Wise said. “You see your brother going through some stuff, trying to reach his goal. And that’s my brother (Armstrong), so I’m going to help him reach his goal — not only me, but he helps me, as well.”

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

16 - Derrick Neal

15 - Khalil Herbert

14 - Charles Baldwin

13 - Shakial Taylor

12 - Chase Harrell

11 - Joe Dineen

10 - Hasan Defense

9 - Mesa Ribordy

8 - Carter Stanley

7 - Mike Lee

6 - Hakeem Adeniji

5 - Daylon Charlot

4 - Peyton Bender

3 - Steven Sims

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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 4, QB Peyton Bender

Kansas junior quarterback Peyton Bender throws during the spring game, on Saturday, April 15, at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas junior quarterback Peyton Bender throws during the spring game, on Saturday, April 15, at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

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.

The first Saturday of the Kansas football season is upon us, and so, too, is the highly anticipated KU debut of junior quarterback Peyton Bender.

Expected to be the kind of QB the program has lacked for years, Bender, a 6-foot-1 former Mike Leach protégé at Washington State, where he spent his first two seasons, has the familiarity with the Air Raid offense to not just hit the ground running, but hit the turf throwing.

Although the hundreds of quick reads and releases he has made at KU practices through the spring, summer seven-on-sevens and preseason have come almost exclusively behind closed gates, fans and everyone else who cares enough to follow the Jayhawks closely will finally see what Bender can do to invigorate a long-stumbling offense this weekend, versus Southeast Missouri State (6 p.m. kickoff, Memorial Stadium).

Third-year head coach David Beaty hasn’t said as much publicly, but Bender is the inevitable starter entering the season, and is poised to take off with the help of first-year KU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, a deep receiving corps and what Beaty extols as a much-improved offensive line.

No one is proclaiming Bender as a program-altering talent, but Beaty, Meacham and his teammates often during the past several weeks have referenced the ball security displayed during practices and scrimmages.

“The thing that has stuck out to me is just management of a team, and management is a lot of things,” Beaty said of what encouraged him during camp about Bender and redshirt sophomore Carter Stanley. “The number one thing is taking care of the football, not putting the ball in jeopardy and seeing us really focus on an area that we were not very good at last year, which was throwing the ball to the other team.”

And while Bender so often is characterized as a smart read-and-react pocket passer, his position coach, Garrett Riley, says the aspiring Air Raid expert can do more than put the ball on the money.

“I’ll tell you what, Bender can really make some plays with his feet, as well,” Riley said of the former juco standout’s ability outside of the pocket.”

Bender won’t be asked to play like a young Peyton Manning, but he will be charged with distributing the ball expediently to a variety of targets.

Expect to see more moving chains and scoring drives out of a KU offense than you have in nearly a decade — if you’ve bothered keeping up that long.

The Peyton Bender era is here, and for a change, the Kansas offense shouldn’t be unbearable to watch.

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

16 - Derrick Neal

15 - Khalil Herbert

14 - Charles Baldwin

13 - Shakial Taylor

12 - Chase Harrell

11 - Joe Dineen

10 - Hasan Defense

9 - Mesa Ribordy

8 - Carter Stanley

7 - Mike Lee

6 - Hakeem Adeniji

5 - Daylon Charlot

Reply 13 comments from Randy Bombardier Jmfitz85 Dirk Medema Brock Wells Chrisdeweese Brett McCabe Catsandwich Karen Mansfield-Stewart Steve Corder

Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 6, LT Hakeem Adeniji

Kansas offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji runs through warmups on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark.

Kansas offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji runs through warmups on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark. by Nick Krug

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.

It takes a special kind of true freshman offensive lineman to start 12 games at tackle, and that’s exactly what Hakeem Adeniji did for Kansas in his debut season.

The 6-foot-4 blocker from Garland, Texas, solidified himself as the left tackle of the present and future for the Jayhawks in 2016. Aiming to play at around 295 pounds in his upcoming sophomore year, Adeniji might not be as heavy as some of the Big 12’s most notable O-linemen, but he’s sturdy, nimble and a natural at his position.

KU’s O-line coach, Zach Yenser, says Adeniji is the rare kind of lineman who can be shown something once and immediately pick it up.

And as Adeniji described earlier this summer, in an interview with KLWN’s Rock Chalk Sports Talk, he also benefits from practicing against Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU’s star defensive end.

“He brings so much that you’re not going to see on a Saturday. Outside of maybe a Jordan Willis from K-State, you’re not gonna find many guys of his caliber in the country,” Adeniji said of Armstrong, a consensus All-Big 12 end as a sophomore and the conference’s Preseason Defensive Big 12 Player of the Year.

“Personally, I love it, because as a competitor I want to be as good as I can be and going against him every day is just fun,” Adeniji added. “I’m always on my heels and I always have to be ready, because he’s going to come at me with something new. We just go back and forth and make each other better.”

Listed at only 265 pounds when he first joined the program just over a year ago, Adeniji takes conditioning and nutrition very seriously to avoid becoming so heavy he can’t move well and pick up his blocks. He said his mother, Semia, always made sure when he and his brother, Moshood (former Air Force O-lineman), were growing up they didn’t eat fast food or things like that. As a result, Hakeem says his body always feels good and that allows him to compete at a high level.

That approach has only developed further this past offseason, with the help of new KU strength and conditioning coach Zac Woodfin. Adeniji said he and the rest of KU’s offensive linemen are reaping the benefits of their offseason work.

“I think we’ve taken another step as far as our strength and conditioning. Personally, I just feel a lot stronger, a lot more powerful,” Adeniji shared. “Just pure strength is one thing, but your ability to unlock that and use it in certain ways, I mean, that’s one thing Coach Woodfin’s done a real good job of, taking us to the next level.”

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

16 - Derrick Neal

15 - Khalil Herbert

14 - Charles Baldwin

13 - Shakial Taylor

12 - Chase Harrell

11 - Joe Dineen

10 - Hasan Defense

9 - Mesa Ribordy

8 - Carter Stanley

7 - Mike Lee

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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 8, QB Carter Stanley

Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley (9) throws during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley (9) throws during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

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.

It’s unclear at this juncture just how much Carter Stanley will be called upon this coming season within new coordinator Doug Meacham’s offense. But we know he’s going to play — either as a backup to Peyton Bender or a starter.

The great news for David Beaty is that Stanley, even if he ends up No. 2 on the depth chart, qualifies as a better option than anyone the head coach put on the field at QB in Week 1 of 2015 or 2016.

Stanley began his redshirt freshman season as a third-stringer, but progressed enough behind the scenes to develop into a starter for KU’s final three games, and in those contests the Jayhawks beat Texas in overtime and looked far more competent and competitive than they had most of the season.

In his three starts, Stanley completed 71 of 124 passes (57.3 percent) for 693 yards, with three touchdowns and four interceptions, but he showed toughness and leadership, as well as flashes of his ability to extend plays with his feet.

That characteristic, more than anything else, tends to be the first thing referenced in KU’s QB debate when it comes to differences between Stanley and Bender.

A 6-foot-2 redshirt sophomore from Vero Beach, Fla., Stanley said the longer he’s been at KU the more comfortable he has become in making plays on the move.

via GIPHY

“I think that’s something I’ve always had as part of my game. In high school I think I was able to stay in the pocket a little bit more,” Stanley said. “I think I’ve been able to add skills to my game when I roll out since I’ve been here at KU. The coaches do a great job. We do a scramble drill at least once a week in practice. So the receivers know where to go when the quarterbacks do roll out of the pocket. I definitely think under these coaches I’ve been able to grow in that aspect.”

So is Stanley better throwing on the run, or just tucking the ball and taking off for a first down and/or a chunk-yardage play?

“I think both are there just because the coaches, they teach us about making calculating decisions and making the right decision,” Stanley said. “We’ll watch that on film sometimes and just make sure you make the right decision.”

As Beaty will tell you, most teams need to have two quarterbacks, because staying healthy for all 12 games is no guarantee. So even if Stanley doesn’t end up entering the season as a starter, he will likely still have a significant impact.

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

16 - Derrick Neal

15 - Khalil Herbert

14 - Charles Baldwin

13 - Shakial Taylor

12 - Chase Harrell

11 - Joe Dineen

10 - Hasan Defense

9 - Mesa Ribordy

Reply 2 comments from Jmfitz85 Randy Bombardier

Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 10, CB Hasan Defense

Kansas cornerback Hasan Defense backpedals while covering cornerback Antonio Cole during practice on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark.

Kansas cornerback Hasan Defense backpedals while covering cornerback Antonio Cole during practice on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark. by Nick Krug

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

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

16 - Derrick Neal

15 - Khalil Herbert

14 - Charles Baldwin

13 - Shakial Taylor

12 - Chase Harrell

11 - Joe Dineen

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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 12, WR Chase Harrell

Kansas wide receiver Chase Harrell (3) is tackled by cornerback Kyle Mayberry (16) after a catch during the spring game on Saturday, April 15, at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver Chase Harrell (3) is tackled by cornerback Kyle Mayberry (16) after a catch during the spring game on Saturday, April 15, at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

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.

From the day Kansas signed receiver Chase Harrell as a long, wiry receiver out of Huffman, Texas, head coach David Beaty hasn’t shied away from hyping up his potential.

In fact, on a number of occasions Beaty has told reporters Harrell reminds him of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Mike Evans, a Pro Bowl wideout whom Beaty coached as an assistant at Texas A&M.

Harrell redshirted during his first season at Kansas, and in 2016 only made spot appearances while totaling five receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown in 12 games.

Now a redshirt sophomore, though, Harrell (according to his head coach) is closer to 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds than his 6-4, 215 listing in the spring. And this fall is shaping up to be a breakout season for Harrell.

Teammates rave about Harrell’s size and the extra work he put in during the offseason. If the ball is thrown up, they say, Harrell will do everything in his power to come down with it in his possession.

Harrell gave a preview of his third-year ability during KU’s spring game, when he caught three passes for 51 yards, including an incredible snag near the sideline — prompting veteran Steven Sims Jr. to think Harrell was one of the scrimmage’s MVPs.

via GIPHY

New KU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham considers Harrell not only a big target in his Air Raid scheme, but also the type of receiver whose presence forces defenses to adjust. When Meacham sends Harrell deep, he said that will benefit the Jayhawks’ running backs, too, because defenses can’t afford to leave Harrell in single-coverage down the field.

“He’s just a long fade guy. You’ve got to kind of double him or we’ll just throw the fade to him,” Meacham said of Harrell, whose size gives Kansas a different look than top receivers Sims (5-10) and Daylon Charlot (6-0). “Just having that type of body gets you a high safety, which helps you run the football to his side. There’s one less support player. It helps you in a lot of different areas. Plus, if they ever seam him up you just throw it up. That’s what we do. It’s no secret.”

Harrell recently said the start of preseason practices had him fired up for the quickly approaching campaign.

“I can tell other people are, too, because tension’s getting a little higher. You can tell testosterone’s kicking up,” Harrell said. “I know I’m ready.”

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

16 - Derrick Neal

15 - Khalil Herbert

14 - Charles Baldwin

13 - Shakial Taylor

Reply 4 comments from Randy Bombardier Jmfitz85 Jim Stauffer

Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 14, RT Charles Baldwin

Kansas junior offensive tackle Charles Baldwin stands during a drill in preseason practice on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017.

Kansas junior offensive tackle Charles Baldwin stands during a drill in preseason practice on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017. by Mike Yoder

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.

The yearlong wait is nearly over. When Kansas opens its season Sept. 2 against Southeast Missouri State, KU’s coaches, players and fans finally will get to see what kind of impact former Alabama tackle Charles Baldwin could have for the Jayhawks.

Since the 6-foot-5, 305-pound right tackle joined the program in Aug. 2016, the five-star junior college prospect (at ASA College, in New York) has seemed to possess the size, strength and talent to turn KU’s offensive line from a defect to an advantage.

As his Kansas debut gets closer, the intensity at preseason practices has picked up, which Baldwin considers a good thing.

“I feel like the farther we go the more comfortable you get, just because you’re learning the plays, you’re knowing where you’ve got to be and how,” said Baldwin, who is battling sophomore Antione Frazier for a starting spot at right tackle. “We build chemistry. The longer time we spend together on the practice field the more chemistry we get. So as time goes on it doesn’t get harder. It gets easier because we’re on the same page.”

Third-year KU head coach David Beaty recently said “youngins" such as Baldwin might be athletically ready when they get to campus, but much more goes into being fully prepared for their first encounter with FBS-level football.

KU offensive line coach Zach Yenser said Baldwin, dismissed at Alabama in 2016 after participating in spring football, knows he has to keep working in order to reach his potential — especially with the 6-4, 285-pound Frazier challenging him on the depth chart.

“Athletically, both those guys at right tackle are what you want,” Yenser said. “Their feet, their strength, their length, all that stuff.”

According to Yenser, Baldwin has to continue to get the reps to understand the offense fully, because that also will enable him to play faster. The O-line coach said Baldwin learns by coming in and getting one-on-one video review, owing to the fact that he absorbs more in that setting than in position group meetings.

“You’ve just got to taylor to each one of your guys,” Yenser said. “It doesn’t matter what I know. I’ve got to get them to know it.”

Since Baldwin went from practice player during his sit-out transfer season to eligible, Yenser has stayed on the potential standout, same as he would any of his players.

Yenser’s advice to his big junior tackle, as outsiders speculate on his talent and/or past?

“Make the main thing the main thing. None of the other stuff even freaking matters,” Yenser tells Baldwin. “What matters is you getting a degree, you being a great teammate and all that stuff will lead to you being a great football player. Because you’re talented. Focus on what matters. It doesn’t matter what anybody thinks. Who cares?”

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

16 - Derrick Neal

15 - Khalil Herbert

Reply 4 comments from Bob Bailey Randy Bombardier Chrisdeweese Brett McCabe

Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 16, NB Derrick Neal

Kansas cornerback Derrick Neal (7) disrupts a pass to Memphis wide receiver Phil Mayhue (89) during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn.

Kansas cornerback Derrick Neal (7) disrupts a pass to Memphis wide receiver Phil Mayhue (89) during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn. by Nick Krug

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.

When coordinator Clint Bowen evaluates individual defensive players during and after Kansas football practices he likes to break it down by a player’s field presence and understanding.

Bowen says there are three phases for a college football defender:

No. 1: Know your assignment for each called formation.

No. 2: Get enough reps to make proper reads and reactions.

No. 3: All of it is second nature, enabling you to dissect an offensive call before the ball is in the quarterback’s hands.

A former KU receiver, nickelback Derrick Neal has progressed to the point where the secondary finally feels like home when he steps on the field

“Last year I couldn’t really tell what the offense was trying to do to the defense or do to me, from where I’m standing at, what position I’m at,” Neal, a senior from Dallas admitted. “But now I feel like I can read the offense: ‘They’re gonna do this play. He’s gonna run this. He’s gonna crack block.’”

As the senior continues his preseason camp battle for starting nickel duties with sophomore Kyle Mayberry, Neal said he and KU’s safeties, such as Mike Lee, Bryce Torneden and Tyrone Miller Jr., regularly call out pre-snap reads for the defense — a responsibility the nickels and safeties share.

“If you know what you’re doing,” Neal said, “you speak up and let your teammates know what’s this and what’s that.”

It’s quite a different feel for Neal, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound defensive back, from 2016, his first full season at the position. Playing as a backup in 11 games, Neal totaled 15 tackles and broke up two passes.

He’s expecting much more out of himself this coming fall, because his knowledge is finally catching up with the rest of his body when he is out in space defending receivers. Neal says his biggest strengths are his speed and feet, and it’s starting to show.

“I can cover anybody on the field,” Neal said.

Miller said earlier this summer during an interview on KLWN Neal’s quickness makes him an asset for KU’s secondary.

“He’s just got cat instincts. You see a receiver break left or break right, he’s on it, exactly like that,” Miller said, adding Neal rarely got beat on one-on-ones or deep, because he possesses the speed to make an interception or knock a pass away, even on the rare occasions he’s trailing a receiver.

Neal always had the athleticism to make an impact in the secondary, but now, as a senior, everything is coming together.

“I feel like this definitely is going to be my year,” Neal said of his personal expectations. “This is my money season. I definitely gotta eat. I’m willing to do what I’ve gotta do to be successful on the field.”

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

Reply 3 comments from Jim Stauffer Brett McCabe Randy Bombardier

Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 18, LB Keith Loneker Jr.

Kansas special teams player Keith Loneker (33) pulls down Texas Tech place kicker Erik Baughman (36) for a safety during the second quarter on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.

Kansas special teams player Keith Loneker (33) pulls down Texas Tech place kicker Erik Baughman (36) for a safety during the second quarter on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. by Nick Krug

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.

Primarily a special teams contributor at the time, when Keith Loneker Jr. produced the Kansas football program’s first safety since 2012 in his Big 12 debut at Texas Tech in 2016, it was just a sign of bigger things to come.

By the end of his sophomore season, the hometown product from Free State High was starting at linebacker for the Jayhawks. In the final three weeks he totaled 30 tackles, boosted by a 16-stop performance in the Jayhawks’ meme-inspiring overtime victory against Texas. On that night Loneker also stymied running back D’Onta Foreman, who rushed for 2,028 yards on the season, on a critical fourth-quarter fourth down.

Loneker is glad to be following in his late father’s footsteps at KU, and optimistic about the Jayhawks’ chances this season, his third in the program (Loneker sat out 2015 as a transfer from Baker). He saw the work being put in during offseason months and took it as a sign of the program’s overall vibe shifting.

“It’s night and day, not just with our defense, but our team,” Loneker said earlier this summer during an interview with KLWN. “You come in here and one of the biggest things I’ve seen this summer and this past spring is how many people are doing extra work. The first two years I came here there were people doing extra work, but it was just the same people. Now when I come through here you’ll see the D-line — not just Dorance and Daniel and those people who usually do it. But it’s everybody on the D-line.”

Three years removed from beginning his college football career as a freshman All-American at Baker, Loneker is battling Osaze Ogbebor for the starting middle linebacker position. A longtime buddy and former high school teammate, fellow linebacker Joe Dineen expects Loneker, who played in all 12 games last year and started four, will take on a key role in the defense’s success.

“No one knew who he was, and he really made a name for himself,” Dineen said of Loneker’s first season at KU, “and he’s going to come back with a bunch of experience, which is going to help a ton, because that’s huge in the Big 12, the experience.”

Fueled by personal tragedy, just months after his father, former KU offensive lineman Keith Loneker Sr., died, “little Keith” already has shown he can deliver big plays. Now he wants to stand out on a weekly basis for an entire season.

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 20, DE Josh Ehambe

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong spots fellow position player Josh Ehambe during a set of squats at the Anderson Family Football Complex on Thursday, June 29, 2017.

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong spots fellow position player Josh Ehambe during a set of squats at the Anderson Family Football Complex on Thursday, June 29, 2017. by Nick Krug

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.

When people discuss the Kansas football team’s talented defensive line, conversations sometimes begin and end with the names of Dorance Armstrong Jr. and Daniel Wise. But the stars of the unit will tell you another name belongs in those discussions.

Junior defensive end Josh Ehambe, who first displayed the brightest flashes of his strengths during the 2017 spring game, when he recorded four tackles and made three sacks, has transformed himself into a potential impact player.

“He’s probably one of the hardest-working guys on the team,” Wise said of Ehambe. “Constantly putting in work, constantly pushing us to be as best as we can be. And that’s what it’s all about on the D-line at the University of Kansas. That’s what we do.”

As a redshirt sophomore in 2016, Ehambe played in 11 games but only totaled three tackles on the season. He made his biggest impact versus TCU, with a sack and forced fumble.

Now entering his fourth season in the program, the 6-foot-3, 247-pound lineman can feel himself becoming capable of much more. Ehambe said in an interview with KLWN earlier this summer he’s probably at his best right now rushing the passer off the edge.

“But where I feel like I do need to improve is stopping the run, being more stout in the run, because before I can get to third down I have to get through first and second. I have to stop that first,” Ehambe explained, adding he thinks that will come eventually.

Until then, Ehambe, as he previewed in the spring game, should still find opportunities to make big plays on defense. On one down during the open scrimmage a few months back, Ehambe started outside, sped past right tackle Antioine Frazier with a spin to the inside and created himself an easy path to the QB.

Given the overwhelming talent of some of his D-line teammates, Ehambe wants to make the most of his chances this fall.

“I know a lot of guys are going to be so stressed on Dorance, so stressed on Daniel, Isi (Holani), that it’s probably going to leave me one-on-one,” Ehambe said, “and it’s all on what I do and if I seize the moment.”

Although Ehambe has missed much of preseason camp up to this point due to what head coach David Beaty described as a “minor surgical procedure,” he could be back involved by the end of the week if there is no change to his recovery timetable.

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

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