Keegan: Gordon solidifies defense

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

You rob a strength to feed a weakness, you know where you end up? On Mediocre Blvd.

That's why the best news coming out of Kansas University football coach Mark Mangino's press gathering Tuesday came when he addressed how he would use Charles Gordon.

"Charles plays an important role on defense," Mangino said. "He contributes more than perhaps the untrained eye sees. He's intelligent. He's a field general. He makes checks for the secondary. He's on the far side of the field, and he can get the secondary lined up all the way from the near safety to the far corner."

So he's not only the biggest playmaker on defense, he's the glue guy. He also might be the team's best receiver, which is a blessing, except when it's a curse. To play on offense, he must rest on defense. On this team, the defense must never rest, because the offense isn't built to play catch-up.

"I probably feel a little more confident about pulling him over on offense this year than maybe a year ago, but we have to stop people first," Mangino said. "We have capable people on offense, and Charles at this point will complement that group."

With or without Gordon, the Jayhawks don't have a great offense. So reach for greatness by making him a full-time defensive player and only a spot receiver.

It sounds as if Mangino will have the discipline not to overuse Gordon and will be cautious enough to avoid leaving the defense vulnerable with Gordon resting. Good news.

If you're so beaten down by the negativity of nine consecutive losing seasons, don't bother to read more good news. If you want to believe the Jayhawks might be on the verge of a winner - and isn't it more fun that way? - read on.

Listen to KU center David Ochoa talk about teammate James McClinton, a 283-pound sophomore defensive tackle.

"He's almost unblockable," Ochoa said. "He's just one of those gifted athletes. As soon as the ball's moving, he's moving, before the quarterback even has the ball."

The best part about that intrasquad scouting report is that Ochoa doesn't remember McClinton being anything special a year ago. Now, he can't stop talking about him.

"It's amazing to see," Ochoa said of McClinton's improvement. "I honestly think going against those guys, they are one of the best defensive lines, if not the best defensive line, in the Big 12."

With McClinton exploding off the ball, Nick Reid leading an exciting linebacker unit and Gordon anchoring the secondary, the Jayhawks' defense has a don't-mess-with-us identity.

Mangino's selection of Adam Barmann at quarterback reveals a great deal about what he wants of his offense: Mistake-free execution comes first, big-play ability comes second.

With a fresh Gordon on defense, another big takeaway season in the neighborhood of last season's 27, or better, is possible.

So, if you feel tempted to groan about how it would be more enjoyable watching Gordon as a receiver, just think about how joyless it must be to play against a Jayhawks defense at full strength.