Last year's Kansas University football defense was impressive.
After just two days of preseason practices, coach Mark Mangino might be even more impressed with this year's 'D.'
"That defense is quick," Mangino said Saturday after the Jayhawks' open practice at the KU practice fields. "It's a quick outfit. It's physical up front. The challenge is, they've got to learn very quickly. We've got to get that chemistry that we had last year, and I think it's well on its way. I'm really excited about our defense. I think we really have a scrappy bunch of guys - it's going to be OK."
Linebacker Mike Rivera insists chemistry won't be a problem.
"We're coming around, just jelling real nicely in two-a-days, so it's looking really good," Rivera said.
Even quarterback Kerry Meier is excited about the 2006 KU defense.
"It's going to be different because Banks (Floodman) and all those guys were there, and those guys are tough to replace," Meier said of the 2005 linebacker corps. "But the three that we've got right now : they might be even more athletic than those guys. So if they can gain experience, they're going to be pretty dang good players."
Though the defense looks to be solid, there are few locks for starting assignments.
"There's competition everywhere," Rivera said. "We're all pushing each other. No positions are set, everybody's battling. So it keeps us fresh and keeps us wanting to get better."
The offense seems to be mimicking the defense in building a strong rapport - and in the uncertainty of who is going to get the starting nod.
"A big key to that offense is that offensive line," Meier said. "And we've got a group of very talented players. We've got veterans, we've got some athletes up there that can run, they can move. We've also got the mentality part - they're smart. And I'm looking forward to playing with these guys and winning some ball games."
Having a red-shirt freshman - Meier - under center, those smarts may come in handy. But Mangino said it wouldn't be long before Meier looked like a veteran.
"He's a 100-percent player, every single snap," Mangino said. "And he's getting better and better. He has looked good. His retention from spring has been very good. That is the key.
"He does good things. He makes mistakes. That's why we practice. I like the way he has handled himself on the field at a very early age. He has shown leadership qualities, which you like out of a quarterback. I'm pleased with his progress. He's right on track.
"When he makes a mistake," Mangino noted, "he usually turns around and tells coach before we even have a chance to get to him."
Meier said deciding to sit out his first year was huge, as he was able to learn the playbook and get to know his teammates and coaches.
"I've got four more years," Meier said, "so I'm going to make the most of it."
The football squad has just under a month to solidify its chemistry and starting positions before starting the season Sept. 2 against Northwestern State. Kickoff will be 6 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.