Saturday, August 6, 2022
As wave after wave of new players joined the Kansas football team in recent months, many of whom have significant experience playing at other Power 5 programs, defensive coordinator Brian Borland's message to those who remained has been consistent.
"Make it so that I have to play you," Borland has told them.
Such a challenge may be easier issued than heeded because those who were recruited over were primarily underclassmen. Many of them were thrust into significant roles as the Jayhawks went 2-10, especially on defense, and the mental effects of so many woeful performances during their introduction to college football, plus the additional competition upon the start of this season, can easily lead to doubts and feelings of inadequacy.
Borland has been trying to ward those emotions away.
"I tell them literally every day as a group, and I'll grab a guy individually — 'Hey, don't worry about it,'" Borland said Thursday after the Jayhawks' third training camp practice. "Just because we're bringing in an older guy, that doesn't mean that that's his spot. Everything's earned here.
"The guy that's come up through the program, he's got benefits also. He's been in the program. He gets it. He knows what we're about. He knows what we're doing. He knows how we do things, so he's not learning those things like a new guy is. So, there's advantages to both."
The Jayhawks added 19 players via transfer in the past eight months, more than any other Big 12 school. Twelve of them have been on defense and five have been in the secondary, where three cornerbacks and three safeties who were in their first or second seasons played meaningful snaps last season.
One of those players, cornerback Ra'Mello Dotson, said he never viewed the newcomers as a threat. Dotson played 363 snaps on defense last season, when he started eight games as a redshirt freshman. This season, Michigan State transfer Kalon Gervin is expected to start and Utah State transfer Monte McGary will also vie for a role.
"It's just going to make everybody work hard," Dotson said. "At the end of the day, if you take that — if you're a corner and you see somebody else added to the room and you take that negatively — it's going to have a bad fit on you. When I saw the transfers come in, I was a bit happy, because I feel like we needed to add older guys to the room with more knowledge. I was happy about that."
Dotson said he benefited from a similar mentality while at Mainland High in Daytona Beach, Florida, as he valued the experience and knowledge older teammates had.
"It can pay off because they may know stuff that we don't know yet, and they help (defensive backs coach Jordan) Peterson help us with the stuff like that that we don't know," Dotson said.
Safety O.J. Burroughs is in a similar situation as Dotson. He played 339 snaps on defense last season as a freshman, second among returning safeties to senior Kenny Logan Jr., and started against Duke.
He was competing for playing time with Jayson Gilliom and Edwin White-Schultz during the spring, then watched as the Jayhawks added Marvin Grant from Purdue; Jarrett Paul from Eastern Michigan and Jalen Dye from Palomar Community College.
Grant, a redshirt junior, started all 13 games last season, and Paul, a redshirt senior, started 12 games last season and eight at Rutgers in 2019.
"Just knowing football, that's what football is about," Burroughs said. "It's just competing. Nothing is going to be given, so just embrace it."
And although Borland said the coaches will try to get as many players as they can on the field this season, those who don't may be able to benefit from something they couldn't a year ago.
A redshirt would allow them to play in as many as four games and maintain a season of eligibility they can use in the future.
"We can't be selfish," Borland said. "This is a team game, and you've got to have trust in the coaching staff that we're gonna figure it out. We're gonna get the best guys out there, guys that need to play. We don't just play 11 guys. We play a lot of guys. That's just how it is. So, be in the mix and those things will sort itself out."