Column: Coaching secondary at Kansas presents challenge

Kansas co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry grits his teeth as he prepares to give some criticism during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.

Kansas co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry grits his teeth as he prepares to give some criticism during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Both starting safeties are gone, as are cornerbacks JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald, both potential NFL draft picks. And a pile of fast-paced Big 12 football offenses will be eager to run up scores to impress the selection committee that chooses the four schools that will vie for the national title.

Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen also coaches the safeties. Co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry, in charge of the cornerbacks, left powerful TCU to join Bowen and head coach David Beaty. Plenty of coaches say they enjoy tackling difficult challenges. Perry certainly backed up his words. He accepted the most difficult job in the Big 12.

After completing his career as a cornerback at the University of Houston, Perry spent a few years cutting his coaching teeth at his alma mater and worked 18 of his 19 seasons coaching high school football in the state of Texas. He was director of high school relations and recruiting at TCU in 2013 and was head coach Gary Patterson’s cornerbacks coach in 2014.

He has walked into a secondary shy on depth and experience. And you think you have a tough job.

The way he goes about his job, running, teaching and hollering, he appears to love it.

“Where are we?” Perry echoed a question midway through the spring football portion of preparing for a brutal 2015 12-game schedule. “We’re 50 percent of the way there because we just don’t play every play like it’s our last play and that’s kind of what I’m trying to get them to understand is you’re going against our offense, who’s (still learning the Air Raid) and these other offenses, like TCU and Texas Tech and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, those guys have been rolling in this thing for years. They’ve been successful. So we’re not even close to seeing what we’re going to see. I don’t think they understand that.”

Kansas will try to play at a rapid pace on offense. If the Jayhawks succeed in doing so, they’ll score quickly. If they struggle, three-and-out possessions will be common. Either way, the defense will spend the majority of the game on the field and the lack of depth can’t be disguised.

The talent and the pace of the offenses the KU defense will face creates the reality that no defense in the nation will face a more severe test than Kansas.

“I was telling Clint and coach Beaty, we’re going to go through some growing pains where guys just go right by us because we’re not used to seeing it every day,” Perry said. “And then guess what? They’re fixing to go do it again. Baylor’s going to do it again and again and here comes another guy. They’re going to do it four or five plays. You don’t have the luxury of going off the field like offenses do.”

Tevin Shaw and Greg Allen gained valuable experience at nickelback a year ago. Shaw looks bigger, faster, more sure of himself and has a chance to have a big junior season.

Ronnie Davis and Matthew Boateng played some at cornerback last season. Junior-college transfer Brandon Stewart probably has the most promise of the cornerbacks.

“He has that play-making ability and he’s wiry,” Perry said. “I call him Crazy Legs. He’s a project. I try to tone him down. He takes three steps to get to where he needs to be in one step. I’ll tell him, ‘We’ve got to get you right technique-wise.’ It’s not because he’s not trying. The stuff I tell him to work on, that’s what he’s working on.”

Perry’s tight with winning football coaches throughout Texas because he was one of them and he doesn’t have an arrogant bone in his body, which helped him remain friends with the coaches he defeated. He’ll bring better players to Kansas. In time they’ll become Big 12-caliber players.

Kansas is lucky to have Perry, even if it takes a few years for the fruits of his labor to translate to better records.