Last week SB Nation Kansas City took a look at the offensive side of the ball. Today we switch to a thorn in the side of the Jayhawks for the better part of two seasons, the defense.
To some extend the struggles defensively are understandable. The Jayhawks faced three of the most high powered offenses in history in Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech. Throw in the Missouri Tigers who run the spread as well as anyone and Kansas faces more than it's share of challenges.
Still, the defense under Mangino refused to take chances, refused to play aggressively and for the most part tried to play a bend but don't break philosophy. Unfortunately they consistently broke.
With the new staff things appear to be different. The Jayhawks might still get beat, but they won't get beat sitting on their hands. Aggressiveness, risk and attacking seem to be the early buzz words, now it's a matter of having the personnel to successfully play the style.
Kicking off the defensive report card are the men in the middle. The defensive tackles up front and a position where Kansas has turned remarkably thin. There was a time when this was a strength for Kansas, but the loss of Jamal Greene during the offseason combined with a few misses in recruiting leave Kansas looking for answers.
John Williams appears to be the player most physically prepared. He's trimmed down considerably after moving from guard to defensive tackle during 2009 and should be the leader of this group. After that Kansas has an undersized Pat Dorsey, Richard Johnson Jr. and Darius Parish. Johnson Jr is the closest thing to a proven commodity, Parish continues to struggle mentally and Dorsey for all his efforts still stands a mere 6' 275. That's just a tough spot to play defensive tackle in the Big 12 from.
One of the Jayhawks most consistent defenders anchors this group in Jake Laptad. Laptad should be a captain when all is said and done and is joined at the position by Kevin Young and Quinton Woods who both appear prepared to contribute solid minutes as well. Beyond that depth again becomes a concern.
The loss of Travis Stephens to academic problems means the Jayhawks are looking to Tyrone Sellers or one of the incoming freshman to provide minutes in the rotation. Sellers has made a strong push to add the necessary weight to play at the division one level and could be a factor, while true freshman Keba Agostinho is a name being tossed around as a potential true freshman contributor for the Jayhawks.
Look for Drew Dudley, Justin Springer and Steven Johnson to fill the starting spots at linebacker. The loss of Huldon Tharp is a big one, but a healthy Dudley, a healthy Springer and a new face in Johnson all have the opportunity to surprise some folks and change the Jayhawks fortunes at the position after a lackluster 2009.
Beyond the starters Kansas is again looking for unproven, untested youth.
Jacoby Thomas will likely be a pass rushing situational type player. Chea Peterman is a walk on pushing hard for minutes and a developing fan favorite. Other names include redshirt sophomore Josh Richardson and a sleeper in senior Dakota Lewis. A potential freshman surprise is Iowa native Jake Farley who's father was a coach at Kansas during the Terry Allen era.
There seems to be a quiet confidence developing with the Kansas defensive backfield. A year ago this group was consistently put in the position of laying back, giving ample cushion and running through a revolving door anytime a mistake was made. With the new staff, the willingness to learn, attack, play aggressive and learn from those mistakes is there.
Chris Harris should lock up one spot and would be another odds on favorite as a team captain. Behind Harris any one of the group could step up to the challenge. Calvin Rubles had a solid spring and continues to impress in the fall. At 6'3" he provides tremendous size and would be a huge boost should he transition to a full time starter.
Isiah Barfield, Anthony Davis and Greg Brown are three names to keep an eye on. These three have huge upside as athletes and provide the speed and athleticism to be lockdown corners. None were ever able to break the rotation consistently with Mangino and while it remains to be seen if they put it together with a fresh start, all three appear to be having strong camps.
The last name to watch is redshirt freshman Tyler Patmon. As a true freshman he turned heads last fall and through two weeks he's impressing again in 2010.
Much of the confidence in the backfield revolves around the talent at safety. Lubbock Smith returns after a very solid redshirt freshman season that saw the Dallas native snag a starting position. Phillip Strozier leaves some to be desired in terms of physical ability, but the senior is still in the mix through two weeks and has seen the field plenty in recent years.
New faces performing well include Prinz Kande and a senior in Olaitan Oguntodo who both will push for minutes and challenge Strozier for his starting spot from a year ago. Kande was a top recruit from a year ago and Oguntodo is a physically impressive player that just hasn't put it all together on the field since playing in 9 games as a true freshman.
There's no quick fix for a defense that struggled as much as Kansas did last year but the talent at the top level seems to be turning in a solid camp. The questions start to arise when you glance a little further down the depth chart and things look relatively thin.
With two weeks of camp remaining, Kansas needs to find a suitable two deep and a strong rotation to help support that starting group that has a chance to improve over a year ago.