Ex-QB Dyer adjusting to new role

Junior likes change to hitter at safety

Zach Dyer took his share of hits in parts of three seasons as a college quarterback.

Now the Kansas University junior is hitting back.

“It’s kind of nice to be the hitter instead of the hittee for a change,” said Dyer, who made his debut at strong safety last week and made 11 tackles during KU’s 53-29 loss to Colorado. “I’m enjoying it. It’s a lot of fun to be out on the field playing whether it’s defense or offense.”

Dyer started the season-opener at quarterback for Kansas against Iowa State, but was benched in favor of Bill Whittemore, who has emerged as KU’s most reliable offensive weapon.

“Zach was good about it,” said KU coach Mark Mangino, whose team plays host to Texas A&M at 1 p.m. Saturday. “He was a team guy. He supported Bill.”

The team guy was a frustrated guy. The Olathe South graduate had been through this before. He started four games at quarterback as a sophomore, but spent most of his time backing up Mario Kinsey.

With Whittemore putting up eye-popping numbers this season, Dyer was relegated to signaling plays from the sidelines. After the opener, he played in just one more game as quarterback, completing three of five passes for 48 yards late in KU’s 43-33 victory at Tulsa in the fifth game of the season.

“I never thought about quitting,” Dyer said, “but I definitely was discouraged.”

Kansas University's Zach Dyer (13) works out at safety during Tuesday's practice.

So was Mangino, whose defense ranks as the worst in the Big 12 Conference.

“Each and every week I’m walking up and down the sideline, and I see Zach giving signals,” Mangino said. “The more I looked at him, the more I thought there has to be more that he can do for this team than signal plays.”

Mangino thought the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Dyer, who played quarterback and defensive back in high school, could bolster KU’s young secondary. The coach was reluctant to move his second-string quarterback, however, leaving only senior Jonas Weatherbie as backup to Whittemore.

“My only regret is we didn’t do it a while back, but with our quarterback situation there’s a lot of risk involved in showing up on gameday with two prepared quarterbacks,” Mangino said. “I don’t recommend it.”

Dyer made the switch midweek before KU’s Oct. 5 game at Baylor. The junior played on special teams, but did not appear in the Jayawks’ secondary.

KU was back to three quarterbacks last week after red-shirt freshman Brian Luke had a cast removed from a hand he injured during the preseason. That should clear the way for Dyer, who took some snaps during practice last week, to focus on his new roles in the Jayhawks’ five remaining games.

After standing around a lot in the first six games, Dyer had plenty to do against Colorado. He played safety and also contributed on KU’s kickoff, kick return and punt return teams.

“I had only seen him as a quarterback,” Mangino said. “Now that I see him out there running around playing safety and on special teams, he’s quite an athlete. One of the things that’s been overlooked is that he’s a tough son of a gun. He’ll stick his nose in there. He missed a couple of tackles, but a few times he went in there and made some tough, hard-nosed plays you’d expect a veteran safety to make.”

Dyer’s a long way from feeling like a veteran safety, though he could become one if he stays at that position as a senior.

“It’s tough to say,” he said of his role next season. “At the end of the season we’ll see how I’ve done. It definitely would be good to a have a whole offseason with spring ball and two-a-days to learn a new position. I’ve kind of been thrown into it, but I don’t feel like it’s a tentative move.”

Mangino has had nothing but praise for his converted quarterback.

“It’s especially nice on his part,” Dyer said of his coach. “He said some kind things. The rest is up to me. It’s time for me to go out there and perform.”