Productive linebacker Joe Dineen still upbeat about KU's future

Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. (29) sacks Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer (12) during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov.. 4, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. At left is Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2).

Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. (29) sacks Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer (12) during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov.. 4, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. At left is Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2).

Originally published December 6, 2017 at 3:07 p.m., updated December 7, 2017 at 3:01 p.m.

Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen would be the first to admit the 2017 season didn’t live up to the expectations he and other team leaders had going into it.

But that doesn’t mean the redshirt junior couldn’t find some small gratification in his contributions to the Jayhawks’ endeavors.

In his third full season with KU — a hamstring injury ended Dineen’s 2016 year three weeks in — the hometown defensive playmaker from Free State High, in Lawrence, led the Big 12 in total tackles (137) and tackles for loss (25.0).

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker proved so proficient at making stops behind the line of scrimmage that Dineen beat out Oklahoma’s co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (17.5), as well as TCU’s Ben Banogu (15.5) and Mat Boesen (14.5), in the category — even though the conference title game participants had a 13th game to add to their numbers. None came close to catching up to Dineen’s league-best production in opposing backfields, nor did his teammate Daniel Wise (16.0).

Dineen’s name now stands alone at the top of KU’s all-time records for tackles for loss in a season, ahead of Charlton Keith’s former mark of 23.0, set in 2005. A defensive captain, Dineen didn’t know at the time the Jayhawks’ 1-11 season concluded with a loss at Oklahoma State Thanksgiving weekend he had beat out Keith. An error by the stats crew at OSU that day incorrectly credited Wise with both a forced fumble and a tackle behind the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter, when both plays should’ve gone to Dineen. The corrected numbers were submitted to the Big 12 and NCAA this week.

“A goal I had coming into the season was to make more of my tackles behind or at the line of scrimmage,” said Dineen, voted a second-team All-Big 12 linebacker by the league’s coaches, and a second-team All-American by Sports Illustrated. “I’m just glad I was able to accomplish that this year. It was a good accomplishment. I’m proud of that.”

According to Pro Football Focus, Dineen made more stops for defensive wins than any other linebacker at the FBS level.

Entering the off-season, Dineen felt optimistic about KU’s chances of progressing further in 2018, particularly with the vast majority of players on the defense’s two-deep likely to be back.

“We’re going to have a lot of experience,” Dineen replied, when asked to present a factor that could give KU’s fan base some hope for next season. “Defensively we’ve got a lot of experience in the secondary. I’m really looking forward to it.”

The largest question facing the Kansas defense at this phase, with actual games still nearly nine months away, is whether standout defensive linemen Wise and Dorance Armstrong Jr. will return for their senior seasons or leave early to enter the NFL Draft.

“Whatever decision they make, that’s totally up to them. Obviously what they’ve done here in their three years has been incredible,” Dineen said. “The legacy they would leave is just two hard-working guys that make a ton of plays. I think they’ll probably go down as some of the best defensive linemen we’ve had come through here, and rightfully so. They do a ton of stuff off the stat sheet and a ton of stuff on the stat sheet for us.”

Should tackle Wise and end Armstrong come back, KU would most likely have its top 13 tacklers from 2017 in the mix next year: Dineen (137), safety Mike Lee (70), Armstrong (63), nickelback Bryce Torneden (61), Wise (53), safety Tyrone Miller Jr. (47), linebackers Osaze Ogbebor (46) and Keith Loneker Jr. (46), cornerbacks Hasan Defense (42) and Kyle Mayberry (30), defensive tackle J.J. Holmes (24), cornerback Shak Taylor (22) and defensive end Josh Ehambe (22).

All of them, of course, would have to continue to develop and improve through off-season workouts in order for Kansas to put a more competitive product on the field in head coach David Beaty’s fourth season.

“I’m excited because we have a full year with coach (Zac) Woodfin and his staff,” Dineen said of the Jayhawks training with the program’s director of football strength and conditioning, who arrived in Lawrence this past February. “Those guys are really good and I think we’ll come into next season motivated and in great shape. I’m just motivated to get into that program.”