Archive for Monday, August 13, 2007

Line shoulders responsibility for porous pass defense

Platoon of pass rushers, led by senior McClinton, looks to stop big plays before they start this season

August 13, 2007


Kansas University's football team finished 119th, or dead last, among NCAA Division I-A teams in pass defense last year, surrendering 269 yards a game.

The defensive line has a quick fix for the problem, though - harass the quarterback.

"Obviously, you know if you sack the quarterback, they're not throwing the ball," junior defensive end Russell Brorsen said.

Sacks, of course, aren't possible every snap. That means putting consistent pressure on the signal-caller is all the more important.

"The more pressure you get," Brorsen explained, "the quarterback runs and tries not to get hit, tries not to get killed, and he's going to throw the ball up in the air. That's good for the secondary, that's good for everyone."

Tackle James McClinton led the team with six sacks in 2006, but if the Jayhawks want to have a more effective pass rush, they'll have to get more pressure from the edge by relying on defensive ends Brorsen, John Larson, Jeff Wheeler and Maxwell Onyegbule, a converted linebacker.

"There's no question about it, the weak link or Achilles' heel of our football team was the pass last year," sixth-year defensive coordinator and line coach Bill Young said. "We gave up way too many big plays. It starts with the pass rush. We finished fifth in the league (in sacks with 31), but that's not good enough."

KU hopes for different results this year

Last season, the Kansas Football team's record could have been 10-2. That is if the Jayhawks cold have held on to a 4th quarter lead. Four times in 2006, KU was on top heading into the final frame before blowing it. Enlarge video

Young said he stresses that utopian perfection to his pass rushers.

"We talk all the time about, if there's a completion, if we sacked the quarterback there wouldn't be one," he said. "They could have five wide receivers running wide open and the quarterback couldn't get it to them."

McClinton, a team captain, has heard that sermon from Young before and is a professing believer in the pass-rush doctrine.

"It's very important," the Big 12 media preseason first-teamer said of the pass rush. "We throw off the quarterback just a 10th of a second and his pass may be disrupted, or if there's a DB in the area, that's a pick right there."

Young has penciled in Brorsen, who had four sacks last year, as a starter on the left edge and Larson on the right, but said Wheeler and Onyegbule would see extensive action in the pass situation "bandit" package.

McClinton said he's confident in all four of the players and said the size of the 6-foot-7 Wheeler has impressed him during practice.

"He looks like he can come off the edge and cause some havoc," McClinton said of the agile 260-pound sophomore. "I see him out there at practice just getting his hands up and the ball is batted down."

Wheeler said that's not the only way his wingspan helps him out.

"Long arms help because it keeps a blocker as far away from me as possible and allows me to have more room to use moves and my speed to get around him and get to the quarterback," Wheeler, who recorded two sacks in spot action last season, said.

Wheeler said one end in particular has shown a lot of improvement in his pass rushing this summer.

"Max Onyegbule has been looking a lot better," he said of the 6-5 sophomore who is new to the position.

The former linebacker said the transition was not completely natural, though.

"I hadn't ever put my hand down before, like trying to get in the right stance and stuff," Onyegbule said of his initial struggles as an end.

However, he said the guy playing in front of him had helped him develop.

"John Larson, he took me under his wing," Onyegbule explained. "He's showing me the right way - what to do, what not to do, stuff like that."

That sort of leadership is important for the relatively young defensive ends unit, and Young said Brorsen is probably their leader, even if he does so quietly.

"He's not a real vocal leader," Young said of the junior. "He's extremely smart. He's made a 4.0 (GPA) ever since he's been here and it carries right to the football field. You tell him something, he's going to do it."

Brorsen has quiet confidence in himself and his fellow defensive ends, saying the entire unit has been working throughout the summer to help solve the Jayhawks' pass defense problems this fall.

"We all improved," Brorsen said of the pass-rushers. "It wasn't just one person; I think we all got a lot better."

KU corner Aqib Talib said he hoped that work would make things easier on him and the rest of the Jayhawk secondary.

"I think that's where your pass defense starts - up front with the pass rush - and then it finishes with the secondary making the play," the preseason All-Big 12 corner said. "The better the pass rush is, the better you'll be as a team in your pass defense."

With an improved pass rush, the defensive ends can help Kansas' pass defense rebound from last year's statistically disappointing season. Pass-rush evangelist McClinton has some advice for his defensive end disciples on getting the Jayhawks out of pass-defense purgatory.

"Don't let them get comfortable in the pocket," he said of opposing quarterbacks. "I don't even care if he does get the pass off, we pound him and let him know that we're coming, he's going to be a little timid in the pocket."

It might not be perfect in 2007, but the Jayhawk pass defense can go nowhere but up.


Brian Conrad 10 years, 10 months ago

how can anyone possibly say the program is advancing under mangino? DEAD LAST! can anyone imagine what would happen if basketball came in dead last ? people in larrytown would be jumping off bridges. the only thing he has done is pump up the fans and team for couple of games Mizzou and K state. use all this money to get a real coach. new this and that....... the coach means WAY more than new practice fields! how much was spent renovating practice field last year just to move the next year? Mangino likes to spend the money.. time for results now! 9 wins or move on. if we spent the money on bigtime coach he could get us winning on ysi soccer field. really did support him till the toledo fold the tent. he may get lucky and win 7 probably 6 . hope that does not happen. if he wins seven we will have to suffer through another couple years... just win 5 and lets get movin LEW.

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