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Dissecting KU's defensive line and wondering if the best is yet to come for Marquel Combs

Kansas defensive lineman Ben Goodman stretches out during practice on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

Kansas defensive lineman Ben Goodman stretches out during practice on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo by Nick Krug

By now, you've surely all heard that the Kansas University football team's first-string defensive line will be made up of four players who have been in the program for at least a year.

Saturday night, when the Jayhawks take the field for the season opener against South Dakota — 6 p.m. at Memorial Stadium — veterans Kevin Young and Keba Agostinho will handle the end spots, second-year Jayhawk Keon Stowers will start at nose guard and third-year sophomore Ben Goodman will be KU's top Buck, the hybrid defensive end/linebacker position.

No Marquel Combs. No Ty McKinney. No Andrew Bolton. And, of course, no Chris Martin.

Three of those four newcomers whom many believed would make up the starting front four when KU signed them last winter are still with the program but only two of them figure to play this season. Martin was dismissed from the team after a run-in with the law in May and Bolton is expected to red-shirt so he can get 100 percent healthy in time for 2014.

I know there's some disappointment from KU fans over the fact that Combs — the No. 1 ranked juco player in his class according to ESPN.com — is not in the starting lineup, but I don't think the book on Combs' career as a Jayhawk has been anywhere close to written yet.

If anything, the fact that Combs starts the season as a second-stringer behind Stowers should be encouraging for KU fans not discouraging. The idea when Combs was signed was for him to come in and upgrade the defensive line and the pass rush immediately, which, based on the way the line had played the past couple of seasons, seemed like an automatic.

But a funny thing happened between the West Virginia game that ended 2012 and the end of fall camp in August of 2013. Agostinho and Young, both seniors, got healthy, got angry and got serious about not letting someone take their spots during their final seasons of college football.

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ku_fbc_sds17.jpg

That's a good thing. After all, these guys have combined for 69 appearances and 36 starts during the past three seasons. And, sure, that experience came on some pretty bad defenses but, good, bad or indifferent, experience is among the most important factors in college football and these guys have it.

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ku_fbc_sds08.jpg

We don't know yet how productive either player will be this season. But we do know this: KU coach Charlie Weis plays the guys who deserve to play, the guys who look the best, work the hardest and give the Jayhawks the best chance to win. And he stays that way from week to week, which means that if Combs or McKinney or anyone else listed with the second team or lower outshines the others on game day, they'll begin to see more snaps as the season moves along.

Obviously, Combs has not done enough in practice or in the film room to convince the coaches that he's worthy of a spot on the first team. At least not yet. But what if that's because the games have not been played yet and the part of the season that really counts has not yet begun? What if Combs simply is a gamer, a guy who looks OK in practice but wows everybody when the lights come on? If that's the case, he'll play plenty and, whether he starts or not, will hardly matter.

It's hard to know what to expect, but my gut tells me that what I just described is exactly what Marquel is.

The best news? We'll find out in just a couple of days.

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Stowers_action.jpeg

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Comments

eastcoasthawk 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I believe the true test of both lines will be the Rice game. It will be like a conference game. Those guys are good. Looking forward to it all roll out. Bring it fellas!

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Jim Stauffer 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Anyone who looks at our roster and this D-Line and says it is no different than last year is on something really bad.

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BayPark 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I think a few sacks on Saturday would do all of us a lot of good.

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Casey Gee 7 months, 2 weeks ago

In a perfect world I would love to believe that it is encouraging that the same defensive linemen from last year won their spots again this year. But in the imperfect world that is KU football, it is much more discouraging. I have already seen those guys play, and the D-line was terrible last year. I need to see them play much better before I will relax about the D-line.

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Justin Diederich 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Does any one know when they announce the game time for the La Tech game?

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namohcan_99 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I like the optimism, but when the realism eventually sets in we have to be a little disappointed that Combs is not listed as starter. You can suggest the other guys did more to not lose their spots but for a line that needs new blood, it's a bit deflating. We have needed someone who can come in and improve our pass rushing game for many years now. We haven't had that for a LONG time. I have a feeling Combs and some others will be seeing starting spots by conference play. But realistically it appears Combs is not living up to the hype just yet. And losing Martin was about as big of a blow there as any other issue we've had.

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Jim Jackson 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I see what you are saying KG but I am going to safely assume that we are going to be a much better team this year with a much improved record; we can recuit another talented JUCO DE, DT and Buck for next year as well..

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Jim Jackson 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I too, am a bit concerened about the Dline with Young and Keba as starters. However, Stowers is finally healthy and has put on about 10-15 lbs of lean muscle per his interview on 247sports; I expect big things from him.

If Bolton had his ACL surgery a year ago, I hope he is ready to go by conference play. I know coach wants to RS him, but I would really like to see him play this year. None of us on the outside know the extent of his injury but he is going full speed in practice so that is a good indicator of things...

Would love to see 2 out of the 3 Bucks on the field at the same time (Reynolds, Goodman, Willis) one sliding out as an OLB and one as an end during a run situation; we finally have some good athletes with good size to stop the run with Simmons as a hybrid.

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jhawkrulz 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I guess I think of it as the rotation as well. Combs might be the best player, but Agostino and Stowers have played together for so long they know their tendencies and movements. Combs might be able to adjust better to the other person. Again this would highlight that Agostino/Stowers looked better in practice, while Combs will just be great no matter who else is along side of him.

At least this is what I am hoping...hopefully after this week, no Kool-Aid has been spilt and I can get another glass.

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Reuben_J_Cogburn 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I had hope that Combs would be everything he was built up to be.

...that's what you get for being optimistic.

If he couldn't even crack the top of the depth chart over our ourstanding returning line...he clearly wasn't as good as projected.

Bad feeling about this one, folks, and I think you'll agree after the Rice game.

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Ethan Berger 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Okay so does this mean we are running a 3-3-5? Seems like a odd formation we will have

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Cliff Leiker 7 months, 2 weeks ago

You read it here first. KU's defensive line is going to knock some heads off on the opposing team's offensive line. I believe, as the coaches have indicated, that the 2 deep depth chart will be active in games, rotating players in and out. KU is going to win all the close games. I predict Kansas will win the Big 12 championship in football. That's right, football. Rock Chalk.

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Eric Dawson 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Matt -- re: the defensive backfield, what's the word on #14 Nasir Moore? During the spring and summer he was on the depth charts as a return guy, but he is not on the latest KUAthletics.com roster and I've heard/read nothing about him leaving/being dismissed from the program. Clerical error by the FB program staff, or is he no longer on the team? Thanks!

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Clarence Haynes 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I personally think that it is premature to judge the likes of Combs. My sense is on game day, he will meet the challenge and will be on the field quite a bit. Moreover, with Young and Agostinho stepping up their play, we now have more depth that I feel will turn the tide on some of those fourth quarter losses last year.

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KGphoto 7 months, 2 weeks ago

This year I’m convinced will be an improvement over last on the DL. The experience, the health, the Holsopple and the competition are going to add up and simulate a substantial upgrade. Not a massive improvement, but a noticeable one.


But looking ahead, what do we have?

In 2014 the DL should be a force. Combs, Stowers, McKinney, Agostinho, Johnson and Bolton. 5 seniors and 1 junior. All but Bolton with Big 12 experience. All will have been fully Holsoppled and Campo’d. All were above average to excellent recruits to begin with. This is a DLine that will make an impact and be remembered.


Looking further ahead...

In 2015, everybody leaves. We have Andrew Bolton, Tyler Holmes, Peter Gallo and whomever Weis can scrape up between now and then. The Juco downside revealed.

All I’m saying is Chuck better have a few plums in next year’s class or we are gonna be hurtin’.

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Pbbut 7 months, 2 weeks ago

For me, the defensive line is the biggest question mark on the team. Spots have been filled and upgraded, but have they upgraded so that we can compete on a Big 12 level? Only time will tell. It was in 2011, but I still remember Agosthino getting pushed 15 yds. downfield by an OU lineman and he still wasn't off the block. His position on the depth chart causes concern.

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Rivethead 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Campo and Weis are both on record saying they'll use a DL rotation to keep players fresh. So what does it matter if Stowers takes the first series and Combs the second?

I don't think "starting" means as much as it does with other positions.

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pizzashuttle 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I think Weis is saving them for bigger games and doesn't want to risk an injury this early in the season when he doesn't have to. It's like the NFL teams do in their pre-season where they don't play their true 1st string players, except for a few series to save them for the regular season. Weis is doing the same thing. Watch the depth chart when we play OU, OSU, etc. and watch who Weis plays on critical 3rd down plays. Then you'll see who the true 1st string players are.

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Doug Cramer 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Also have to say.....AMAZING pre-season football coverage this year by Matt Tait !!! You've obviously worked hard...and deserve a job promotion. I Remember back in the day when we had that Mizzou guy as the football beat writer. Matt's work blows his out of the water...not even close. I love KU football...thanks for the coverage Matt !

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Keith Hummel 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Well said Matt. Judging from Marquel's postings on Twitter, he is far from happy that he's second string, and that's a good thing. He shouldn't be happy, and should use this as motivation. Like you, I suspect Combs will show something at game time that Weis hasn't seen at practice, and will play plenty of minutes soon enough. I also think this juco influx accomplished exactly what Weis said it would; it created competition. And that competition gave some guys the extra motivation they needed. The result is a much better starting squad and vastly greater depth.

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JayDocMD 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I hope our JUCO DB's step up more than our JUCO DL's. If not, gonna need to score a lot of points to keep up.

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Ken Schmidt 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Thank you Matt. That is exactly what I have been saying to so many naysayers this summer and fall. I am willing to bet quite a lot on the fact that the team on the field for conference play will not resemble the one which we saw last year, nor the one we witnessed only two weeks ago. Funny things is, I am just as--maybe more--interested in game two as game one.

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Doug Cramer 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Matt - I hope your optimism is right on the money. The problem is that we've seen Young and Augostinho for a combined 7 seasons now (4 Young, 3 Augostinho). Neither one of them have proven to anyone that they have the ability to pressure quarterbacks consistently in the Big 12. Not even close...so why would that change this year ? Will admit that I'm extremely disapointed that Martin, Bolton, and Quel aren't starting...because that was the whole point in beefing up the D-line. The D-line in itself has brought this program down harder than any other position group since the Turner Gil era started. Credit Weis, Campo, and the rest of the coaches for making the D-line a priority from a recruiting angle. But just awful luck to lose Martin and Bolton...and Quel probably not as good as advertised. Prove me wrong Quel...because we need something !

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