First-team All-America cornerback Aqib Talib plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Second-team All-America defensive tackle James McClinton remains a student, but his athletic eligibility has been exhausted. Brilliant defensive coordinator Bill Young now works for the University of Miami.
Time for the Kansas University football team to panic?
A closer examination reveals that while there might not be any All-America selections, the KU defense shapes up as even deeper and more experienced than a year ago, the best football season in the school's history.
A check of a late-season, two-deep chart shows McClinton and Talib are the only of 22 defensive players not returning. Head coach Mark Mangino and Young thought so highly of the job Clint Bowen did coaching safeties and coordinating the special teams that he earned a promotion to co-defensive coordinator in February, 2006. With Young's departure, Bowen gained another promotion.
Young's experience and ability to construct game plans will be missed, as will the energy, quickness and dominant play of McClinton, and the big-play ability and contagious confidence of Talib. Replacing them won't be easy, but it pays to remember that the rest of the players are a year older, wiser and stronger, which translates to better.
Asked to name the player he thought might replace him, McClinton answered, "Richard Johnson, Jr. He's big, quick and strong."
Johnson is from Jefferson City, Mo., and is listed at 6-foot-2, 279 pounds. He red-shirted last season and has four years of eligibility remaining after generating quite a buzz during spring football.
Asked the same question as McClinton, senior middle linebacker Joe Mortensen said: "I like Caleb Blakesley. I think he's going to have a big year. Also, I'm looking forward to Jamal Greene stepping it up."
Blakesley is a 6-5, 290-pound junior from Ottawa and a returning starter, Greene a 6-4, 301-pound sophomore from Kansas City, Kan., who played in reserve last season.
Replacing Talib, who also supplied a spark offensively as a part-time receiver, won't be easy. Kendrick Harper, who started three games between injuries, showed promise. Sophomore Chris Harris, the most pleasant surprise of 2007, starts at the other cornerback.
"We'll miss them a lot," Mortensen said. "James and Aqib are great players, but we've got some guys capable of filling their spots. I definitely think we're going to be a great defense."
"All three of us," Mortensen said, pointing to fellow starting linebackers Mike Rivera and James Holt.
Interjected Rivera: "Linebacker's the heart, baby. It's been that way for a long time. It was last year, and it was the year before. We learned well from Banks (Floodman), Kevin (Kane) and Nick (Reid)."
It has been that way since the days of Willie Pless, after whom the leading-tackler award is named. Rivera won it two seasons ago, then switched spots with Mortensen to outside linebacker, opening the way for Mortensen to win it last year.
Let the angst over the defense rest.