Archive for Monday, September 17, 2007

Keegan: Kansas pass ‘D’ on rise

September 17, 2007

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Dead last in the nation in pass defense last season, the Jayhawks have moved up more than 100 spots to 10th in the country.

Central Michigan, Southeastern Louisiana and Toledo averaged 121 yards per game in the air and just 3.67 yards per attempt. That's domination.

As with any numbers to this point, they can only be taken as seriously as the competition against which they were compiled. Common sense and computer rankings tell us KU's nonconference schedule is the weakest in the Big 12.

Still, nobody needs numbers to realize Kansas is far better equipped to contain passing attacks now than last season. The personnel in the secondary is deeper, faster and healthier.

The linebacker unit has more speed and experience than in '06 and is aligned more sensibly.

Yet, one concern regarding the pass defense that lingered through the offseason remains three weeks into the season: Who does Kansas have who consistently can fly off the edge to make the quarterback panic into throwing the ball away, fumbling it away, or taking a sack?

So far, the answer is nobody.

Kansas State has one in Ian Campbell. KU had a pair of pass-rushing monsters in Charlton Keith and Brandon Perkins in 2005. Since they walked off campus, the search to replace them has been fruitless.

John Larson has played well, but he doesn't fit the Campbell/Keith, quick-first-step profile needed to blow by Big 12 blockers.

Since most players in KU's front seven are better against the run than pass, Big 12 teams will test the pass defense, which came up with its first three interceptions Saturday against Toledo.

Darrell Stuckey, an upbeat leader whose passion for playing the game is sure to rub off on teammates, sounds a confident voice that the Jayhawks will be ready to defend the pass even when the competition becomes so much stronger.

"Not too many teams are throwing the ball vertical too much against us yet," Stuckey said. "I guess they see our secondary is pretty fast, so they're not throwing the ball vertical. In the future, when we get in conference, they will throw the ball vertical, and I think we will get a lot more turnovers."

Hard-hitting junior-college transfer Patrick Resby joins Stuckey at safety. Sophomore Anthony Webb, who started at cornerback opposite All-American candidate Aqib Talib last season, first was beaten out by junior college transfer Kendrick Harper. When Harper went down because of an injury, true freshman Chris Harris, not Webb, replaced him, an indication of just how much the depth of the secondary has improved. Harper is expected back soon and won't have to play before he's ready.

KU's offense and special teams played on the sloppy side against Toledo, leaving the defense in tough field position.

"The situation we were put in was a great test for us," Stuckey said. "We were put in a position where we had a lot of pressure on us, and we handled it well."

Improved speed makes the defense more equipped to survive such tests. More speed coming off the edges would help when the passers names are Josh Freeman, Blake Szymanski, Sam Keller and Chase Daniel, instead of Dan LeFevour, Brian Babin and Aaron Opelt.

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