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"The Weakest Link": Kansas Defense Looks to Prove Themselves


Kansas Defense
Credit: Brent Flanders via Flickr

The Jayhawk defense stunk last year, they'd be the first to tell you that. 127th in points per game allowed, 128th in yards per game allowed, 127th in 3rd down conversion %, and 90th in red zone scoring. Mind you, there are 131 FBS schools. Not exactly spectacular, but that doesn't mean it was all bad for KU's defense. They ranked 30th in turnover differential, 20th in takeaways/game, and included bright spots along the weaker defensive line Sam Burt and Lonnie Phelps, Jr., as well as players that excelled in defending the pass in Cobee Bryant and Kenny Logan, Jr. This year, Kansas returns 8 of their 11 starters on defense, and in turn, brings a chip on the shoulder of each player on last year's squad. The defense was seen as Kansas's weakest link, allowing insurmountable leads to be developed that even one of the nation's best offenses couldn't overcome. This year, they look to change that moniker.


Speed Kills

The Jayhawks not only bring back 8 of their starters, but also key transfers like EDGE rusher and Auburn transfer Dylan Brooks, defensive lineman and Colorado State transfer Devin Phillips, and linebacker and Bowling Green transfer JB Brown, among others. These transfer products will immediately help the pass rush get back to form and improve after the loss of Sam Burt and Lonnie Phelps, Jr. Not only that, but with returners Cobee Bryant, Kenny Logan, Jr., and OJ Burroughs, the secondary looks to patrol the skies with pristine efficiency once again. The biggest weakness for this KU defense was their below-average pass rush as well as their poor run defense, something that is cause for concern this year and something being worked on heavily in camp. Linebackers are going through one-on-one drills, players are learning gap fills early, and tackling is being stressed heavily. With new faces along the front seven, there are still many questions, but Kansas is building off their key strength in improving this facet of their game: Their speed. Guys like Bryant and Logan are speedsters, but the linebacking corps contains some of the fastest guys on the roster. "Craig is playing fast right now." Linebackers coach Chris Simpson said to Topeka Journal-World's Jordan Guskey about senior linebacker Craig Young. "I feel like if we get some track shoes on and we lace 'em up on the track I could stay with him in the 100 and 200," Young said to JayhawkSlant's Joe Blake about quarterback and fastest player on the KU roster Jason Bean. The Jayhawks will need as much speed as they can muster if they expect to keep up with the Big 12's high-powered, "track meet" offenses.

No Fly Zone

KU's biggest defensive strength is their pass defense. Thorpe watch list members Kenny Logan Jr. and Cobee Bryant will lead this experienced secondary into battle, with players like OJ Burroughs and Mello Dotson also making a significant impact. They are a big reason the turnover differential stayed so close, as the old ballhawking ways of Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, Jr. have once again made an appearance in the form of Bryant, Logan, and company. The KU secondary combined for 12 interceptions in 2022, and look to build on that number. With their experience and skill, expectations are high to shut down opposing receivers with ease. The big question for the secondary will be if this unit can stay healthy. The centerpiece to this secondary, Cobee Bryant dealt with injuries throughout the 2022 season, among others, and if this secondary does deal with health issues once again it could lead to trouble in developing this defense into a serviceable enough unit. Without the head of this defense being at the top of their game, development and cohesion could be in jeopardy.

Conclusion

In conclusion, KU's defense will have a lot to improve upon if they want to shake off the "weakest link" talk. They will need to rely upon their speed and experience, and they will need to insert the new talent almost seamlessly if they are to accomplish this. However, with that senior leadership in guys like Craig Young and Kenny Logan, Jr. coming back for another year, it certainly makes the undertaking easier. If Kansas's defense can shore itself up to be at least serviceable, they'll give this KU offense a chance to truly excel at its highest level, and in turn, turn this team into a force to be reckoned with.

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