June 12, 2012; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker Steven Johnson (57) during Minicamp at the Denver Broncos training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE
Even though the Turner Gill era at KU seemingly featured zero defense, two former Jayhawk defenders appear to have beaten the odds to make it in the NFL.
Unless you are a Missouri Tiger or Kansas State Wildcat fan most everyone is in full agreement that the Turner Gill tenure at Kansas was a complete and utter disaster. In his first season in 2010, the Jayhawks finished 3-9 overall with a 1-7 record in Big 12 play.
While their offense in 2010 was definitely subpar the defensive unit did not help their cause as they gave up an average of 34.4 points a game for the whole season. Out of the 120 Division One football schools the Jayhawks finished 98th overall in total defense. Things did not improve in 2011 as Kansas finished dead last in the nation while giving up an average of 43.8 points per game.
Amazingly two former Jayhawk defensive players from these squads, Chris Harris who played on the 2010 team and Steven Johnson who played on both the 2010 and 2011 defenses, look like they will be members of the Denver Broncos in 2012.
Last season as an undrafted rookie free agent, Harris not only beat the odds to make the Broncos roster but by season's end he was the team's primary nickel cornerback. Due to the lockout before last season, Harris did not have a chance to impress coaches in offseason workouts and mini-camps so he had to shine during training camp.
He finished the regular season with 72 tackles and recorded his first and only NFL interception against Carson Palmer in the Broncos road victory at Oakland last November. Coming into the 2012 season, Harris is a lock to make the Broncos roster but that is not to say that John Elway did not bring in competition for him.
In the offseason the team signed veteran corner Drayton Florence to compete for the primary nickel job and they selected Arizona State cornerback Omar Bolden in the fourth round of the draft. While the nickel back job is Harris's to lose for the time being he will need to continue and compete like an undrafted rookie trying to make a spot for himself in the NFL.
The roster certainty for Johnson is not anywhere near as a strong as for Harris. As a senior last year for Kansas, he led the entire Big 12 in tackles with 124 and was named to the All-Big-12 second team defense.
He is fighting for a backup job as an undrafted rookie free agent but it seems the odds are in his favor right now to make the team. In the Broncos third preseason game against San Francisco, he received significant playing time behind starting middle linebacker Joe Mays. It is obvious that the Broncos front office and coaching staff like Johnson as he received the highest signing bonus of the teams undrafted free agent signings.
Even if the Broncos decide to keep veteran linebacker Keith Brooking over Johnson they will definitely try to sneak him onto their practice squad. With the question marks that Denver has at linebacker it is not out of the question that Johnson may too see some significant time this season right along with Harris.
Another local college player, Austin Wuebbels, trying to make the Broncos was not as fortunate as Harris and Johnson. The former Missouri Tiger offensive lineman was part of the Broncos first round of cuts to get their roster down to the 75 man limit.