Last year, Drew Dudley made 88 total tackles — surpassed on Kansas University’s football team only by Darrell Stuckey’s 93 — had 8 1⁄2 tackles for loss and was credited with three sacks.
Not half bad for a man operating at only half strength.
Dudley suffered a torn left labrum, a shoulder cartilage, early on, then played out the season in pain.
“How much did it affect me? I’d say quite a bit,” Dudley, KU’s 6-foot-2, 241-pound senior linebacker from College Station, Texas, said. “I didn’t have a lot of strength on my left side after the injury. How much? I don’t really know. But I know I’m looking forward to this season, playing with a healthy shoulder again.”
Dudley is pretty nonchalant talking about his wounded wing.
“It would pop out pretty much every game,” he said, without so much as a wince, “so they decided that I needed surgery.”
So Dudley went under the knife. The resulting six-month rehab kept him out of spring drills.
As a result, KU’s coaches only knew of Dudley what they could glean from tape.
“I certainly watched a lot of film,” KU defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Carl Torbush said. “So I was familiar with him. I saw that he played hard, that he played well. He’s obviously a tough young man. He’s extremely smart, with great work habits, a great athlete. I watched plenty of film. Was he limited because of the shoulder? I didn’t see that.”
The way Torbush sees it, the forced spring layoff didn’t hurt Dudley any, and it might have helped the Jayhawks in the long run.
“It was probably a plus he was not out there,” Torbush said. “It gave Justin (Springer) a chance to come back. He’d been banged up, beat up. To see him perform in the spring, I know he gave me a lot of confidence in him. If Drew had been there, maybe I wouldn’t have seen that as much.”
So despite the fact he was KU’s top returning tackler, regardless of his 38 career games and nine career starts and his honorable mention nod to the All-Big 12 team, Dudley found himself in the darnedest position on the post-spring depth chart: No. 2.
“It was a motivating thing,” he said. “I understand. I didn’t go through spring ball, and the rest of the guys did. Everybody … that’s where they’re at. They deserve it. I’m just looking to do what I can to help the team.”
Has he so far in the preseason shown enough to earn a starting role?
“You’d have to ask coach (Turner) Gill,” Dudley said. “That’s up to him.”
For now, at least, the sore shoulder won’t hold him back. Nor will he throttle back to ensure the injury doesn’t return.
“You really can’t,” he said. “You just can’t play any differently. All you can do is pray for it.”
He’s not praying just for himself. Well aware the Jayhawks are thin at just about every position, Dudley’s looking for a little divine intervention on the injury front.
“My only concern for the team this year is injuries,” he said. “That’s my main concern, injuries, for myself and everybody else, because we need everybody that we have.”
And if everybody stays healthy?
“I can’t really tell you what’s realistic with this team,” Dudley said. “Realistically, we WILL go to a bowl game. Beyond that … we’ll have to see once we get into it.”