Wednesday, July 11, 2012

KU linebackers facing new schemes

KU linebacker Michael Reynolds (55) works against a defensive lineman during practice on Tuesday, April 17, 2012, at the KU practice fields.

KU linebacker Michael Reynolds (55) works against a defensive lineman during practice on Tuesday, April 17, 2012, at the KU practice fields.


It may be a little too early to tell which linebackers are going to play the most snaps for the Kansas University football team this fall. But those who were here this spring said they already had figured out what they had to do to earn a spot.

“I’m pretty sure that it takes physicality and mental toughness,” sophomore Michael Reynolds said. “Mostly mental toughness because you gotta know your plays and know how to execute correctly so you get the job done.”

Getting the job done will be different this year than it has in the past. While most of KU’s veteran linebackers spent the past two seasons working out of a 3-4 set, this season’s 4-3 base personnel grouping figures to have one fewer linebacker on the field. That means more competition for playing time. It also means fresher bodies throughout the games.

While the specifics of which players will play where won’t be ironed out until August, defensive coordinator Dave Campo this spring explained each linebacker position within KU’s new scheme.

“I think they are a little bit different positions,” Campo said of the middle linebacker and outside linebacker positions. “Especially (against) the spread offense.”

So how do they differ?

“The mike (middle) linebacker is what you would call a true linebacker,” Campo said. “He is a guy who can play tackle-to-tackle, and, obviously, we would like some guys who can run and go sideline-to-sideline.”

The outside backers, Campo said, ideally would be guys with even more speed.

“Really, your weak-side linebacker is almost like a defensive back because he is in the box sometimes, and sometimes he is out of the box,” Campo said. “So they really are not interchangeable.”

There are a couple of guys who seem to be locked into specific roles.

Incoming freshman Schyler Miles, for example, is a true middle linebacker. He has good speed, good size and sports the position’s physical style.

“He’s all business,” Campo said. “When he’s talking to you, he looks you right in the eye. And you can build around a guy if you think he’s got the right mentality, and I think he may be that guy.”

Notre Dame transfer Anthony McDonald is another player who appears to be more of a middle linebacker, although Campo said McDonald may be able to play on the outside, too. Huldon Tharp, Tunde Bakare and Ben Heeney, with their above-average speed, figure to stay on the outside, as does Reynolds, who, along with senior Toben Opurum, is working at the hybrid position between defensive end and Sam linebacker. Junior Darius Willis, who played mostly in the middle last season, was penciled in as the team’s starting middle linebacker prior to spring ball.

“The things you do with a 3-4 and a 4-3 are exactly the same,” Campo said. “It’s just a different person doing the job. In one case it’s an outside linebacker, and in the other case it’s a defensive lineman. But you’re lined up with so many gaps, and you’re taking care of all those gaps.”

In addition to hard work and mental toughness, one thing that could determine who plays and how often is speed.

“I think that there’s a few guys that can run,” Campo said. “I think they can probably run a little better than some just because of the fact that they’re a little smaller than other guys in the league.”


“I think we run OK,” he said. “Not great, but I think that’s something that we’re going to be working toward.”

Ragone on watch list

He has yet to play a down at Kansas University and has not played for his current head coach since 2009.

Doesn’t matter.

Tuesday, KU senior Mike Ragone, a transfer from Notre Dame, was one of 33 tight ends named to the Mackey Award Watch List, which annually targets and identifies the top tight end in college football.

Ragone, a 6-foot-4, 262-pound senior from Cherry Hill, N.J., transferred to KU after playing five seasons at Notre Dame. He appeared in 37 games for the Fighting Irish and recorded 11 catches for 109 yards for his career, including six receptions for 60 yards during the final season he played for Weis.

He missed the 2008 season because of an ACL tear and nearly all of last year after suffering a similar injury during the second week of the season.

Known mostly for his blocking and physical toughness throughout his college career, Ragone was ranked as the No. 2 tight end in the country out of high school, according to ESPN’s Top 150.

This season, Ragone will compete for playing time with returning tight ends Jimmay Mundine and Trent Smiley and fellow newcomers Charles Brooks and Jordan Smith.

Spencer spectacular

Recent KU commitment Colin Spencer, a 5-10, 170-pound cornerback out of Woodrow Wilson High in Dallas, lived up to his billing as one of the top athletes in the Class of 2013 with a solid showing at The Opening in Oregon last weekend.

One of the most prestigious offseason camps in the country, The Opening featured most of the top prospects from the Class of 2013 and, at the Combine portion of the event, Spencer finished with the sixth best score of all of them.

This showing comes just four months after Spencer delivered the best performance at the Nike Football SPARQ event in Houston.

In addition to the timing numbers that have made Spencer somewhat of a hot commodity on the recruiting trail, the future Jayhawk also shined during 7-on-7 drills, where he played 120 snaps and had just six passes thrown his way.

Spencer committed to KU in early June and, not long after returning from The Opening, he told Jon Kirby of that his commitment remained solid.

“Every reporter or fan would ask me what this means in recruiting,” Spencer said of his strong performance last weekend. “They all asked what happens when other schools start calling. I told them every time I committed to Kansas for a reason. There were a lot of players there going to places like Ohio State or USC and I would tell them the reason why I chose Kansas.”

At the time of his commitment, Spencer listed the chance to play for Weis and Campo as his top reasons.


gthejayhawk 9 years, 10 months ago

Good for you Mr. Spencer!! A man is only as good as his word. And by the sound of it, you are growing into quite the man.

kellerman411 9 years, 10 months ago

I watched the whole Opening and yeah Spencer is a freak. He is small but he is compact and carries all of his weight in his legs. He'll put 15 pounds on his chest and shoulders and will be ready to rock and roll at the highest level. He reminds me of Cortland Finnegan. When you're given the tools he was given, the sky is the limit.

Michael Pannacciulli 9 years, 10 months ago

Spencer spreading the good word about KU. Love it.

Only 11 career catches for Rangone? Surprised a bit by that.

Campo will get the most out of this D. I like how he is never content with where they are at in their progress. Still can't believe he is our DC!?!

Psyched for the first time about KU football since kickoff of the 2008 Orange Bowl.

KGphoto 9 years, 10 months ago

Three reasons for Ragone. John Carlson. Injuries. Coby Fleener.

Jayhawk2016 9 years, 10 months ago

No. John Carlson was his teammate only his freshman year. And Coby Fleener played at Stanford. Injuries and he just wasn't as good as the class younger Kyle Rudolph.

Dirk Medema 9 years, 10 months ago

Somewhat similar to MacDonald in the Mike who was playing behind Teo. Both could really surprise here.

KGphoto 9 years, 10 months ago

Oh yeah. Duh. Rudolph not Fleener. Anyway, he had his share of obstacles.

VaJay 9 years, 10 months ago

Keep these articles coming Matt!! This is great news and a good read.

clevelandjayhawker 9 years, 10 months ago

This article is better than coffee for firing me up!! Rock Chalk

Dan Harris 9 years, 10 months ago

Your Gay? Not that there is anything wrong with that!

RJ King 9 years, 10 months ago

mhart123 Second grade = the best 5 years of his life.

Doug Cramer 9 years, 10 months ago

AtJaybird - you're correct to simmer expectations down regarding our defense.

This is NOT a knock on Campo...but we just don't have the talent and depth on the d-line to stop big 12 offenses.

I'm excited for the season to start too...but I don't want to here Jayhawk fan call for Weis's head if we only win 3 games.

If we can get some depth and talent on the line...this program will start making bowl appearances.

rockchalk_dpu 9 years, 10 months ago

While that statement that "we run ok" worries me, I also expect a veteran coach like Campo to be able to look at the pieces on the board and set everyone up in a way that allows each player to be successful as a part of a team defense. That is where I think we failed in the past, because coaches were not identifying the skills that their players possessed and putting them in positions to achieve and be successful.

There could be some rough outings ahead, especially facing some of the passing attacks we see in the Big 12, but (and I know I'll get hammered for this comparison) maybe we could see a defense like the Packers last year where despite giving up a ton of yards each game, they were there for key takeaways and carried a bend don't break mentality. Comparing a team that was Super Bowl champs and a 2-10 team is apples to oranges taken to the extreme, but that might be the way we have to go so that our defense can give our offense a chance to win games late.

Keep up the articles Tait, I'm so excited for football season to get here. Almost 50 days left.

KGphoto 9 years, 10 months ago

I think it's a great comparison. Bend don't break would be a big success for this defense. Key turnovers not only stop a drive but spark the whole team. If we can somehow figure out how to win the turnover battle, this could be a real exciting year.

Tony Bandle 9 years, 10 months ago

Don't be discouraged if our record this upcoming season isn't much better than last season.

Rather, look for increased competitveness, improved abilities and the start of a winning culture.

I will not be surprised by more losses than wins.

I will be surprised if we don't make more teams sweat and pay a price for beating us.

And I WILL BE the happiest Jayhawk in Missouri, however, if Uncle Charlie surprises us all!!!

nuleafjhawk 9 years, 10 months ago

The competitiveness aspect is key for me. Last year, I would have been very happy if we just showed up in some of the games. Or if we did show up, not to "cave" the first time anything went wrong. I could have been OK with a 2-10 record if we had been "in" at least a few of the games. But it looked like we were beaten before most games started.

I'm very enthused for football season to get started though! I think we're all going to be pleasantly surprised.

OK_Jayhawk79 9 years, 10 months ago

I like his enthusiasm for playing at KU. For some reason I actually believe that he won't back out of his verbal with us. I sure hope we can hold on to this kid, because kids like this are solid building blocks for a college football program.

texashawk10 9 years, 10 months ago

KU's defense was getting pretty good at creating turnovers during the second half of last season. From the OU game on, 7 games I believe, KU's defense created multiple turnovers in 5 of the games and the biggest reason why a lot of thoses games were more competitive than they should have been. I'm sure that's something that Weis and Campo noticed when going over footage from last season and will be placing an emphasis on this season. If KU's defense can duplicate that this season, it will mask a lot of the deficiencies on the defense, it will keep a lot games closer than they should be, and KU could be able to steal a game or two against good teams like how Iowa St. did to Nebraska a couple of years ago when they won in Lincoln. The defense creating turnovers is the key to getting to a bowl game for KU this season amd making the defense look more respectable than what they really will be this season.

Doug Cramer 9 years, 10 months ago

Agree with everything you said Texashawk - but it's a BIG stretch to think KU will make a bowl appearance this year.

texashawk10 9 years, 10 months ago

Consider this, KU last year held a 21-0 lead against Texas Tech, was tied with ISU with under 5 minutes left and had a potential drive to win the game, had the lead with under 5 minutes to go against Baylor, and was close against Missouri the entire way. KU was a lot closer to being bowl eligible last season than a lot of people realize and because of that, I don't think a bowl game is out of the question this year. KU has actual DT's this season, not just big DE's moved inside, which should help create more pressure than KU has gotten the past 3 years which should force a few mistakes by opposing QB's. I do think Weis and Campo realize that the JuCo ranks are where the future of KU's DLine is because it takes a good 3 years to build a HS DT into a Big 12 DT because of the size required to be good at the position. Look for KU to bring in 3-4 JuCo DLinemen in every class along with 1-2 HS DLinemen to build up in each class. That's pretty much the way KSU has done it and is probably the most successful way to build a DLine if you're not one of the elite schools that can land the 20 or so HS DT's that can compete in major conferences within a couple of seasons.

Steve Reigle 9 years, 10 months ago

Sounds like this young man is exactly what we like to see in a Jayhawk.

hbjayhawk 9 years, 10 months ago

Matt: As always, your reports are top-notch. Thank you for the continued excellent reporting and writing on athletic matters. When is Keegan retiring so you can have his column? LJW editors need to examine your quality compared to others in the sports department. It is night and day! Great work, young man!

AsadZ 9 years, 10 months ago

I agree that Bowl eligibility is certainly possible this year.

Randy Bombardier 9 years, 10 months ago

I can't wait to see an improved D. The way we lead Tech, Baylor and Iowa State last year shows we can compete, and with better coaching, I still see us winning those games as well as all the non-conference games. I don't think 6-6 is too optimistic at all.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.