Just as it’s important for a football team to have a good rapport between its quarterback and his wide receivers or the head coach and his offensive coordinator, the same can be said for any squad’s safeties.
Kansas University has that in the relationship between projected starters Bradley McDougald and Keeston Terry.
“I think we’ve got a lot of chemistry,” Terry, a sophomore, said this spring. “It’s going to take time to get better and get used to playing with each other, but I definitely think we can be a solid group for the next couple of years.”
Widely regarded as KU’s defensive position with the most upside, the Jayhawks appear to be set at safety despite neither McDougald nor Terry having played more than a few games at the position during their college careers.
The reason? Both have played the position before and each is a gifted athlete with a good blend of size, power and speed. Beyond that, they appear to work well together.
“The thing I love about Keeston is he’s one of those book smart guys and he really pays attention to all the details,” McDougald, a junior, said. “I’ll get the gist of the whole defense, but I might still make a mistake here and there. Any time I do, he’s always there to correct me. Yeah, I’m older and, yeah, I’ve been around longer, but just having him there to tweak those small things can help a lot. It goes both ways, but he usually corrects me more than I correct him.”
It’s not just in the mental aspect of the game where these two mesh. They also complement each other physically.
“He seems to be a hard head,” said McDougald, a strong safety, of Terry, a free safety. “He’s a little guy but he likes the contact, and he likes to get down to the nitty gritty. I’m more of a finesse guy. I like to go up and get the ball.”
Added Terry: “I feel like I’m pretty decent when it comes to making tackles. I definitely still need to work on my cover skills, but I think my strong suit right now is my tackling. Hopefully I can have a knack for interceptions since that’s the position I play. I definitely think I can get it done back there.”
Both players followed similar paths to their spot atop the KU depth chart, arriving on campus as wide receivers and being switched over to safety because of team needs and the opportunity to play.
McDougald spent the better part of his first two seasons at wideout but played some safety during 2009 and 2010. For his career, he has recorded 558 yards and one touchdown on 52 receptions while also being credited with 21 tackles and two interceptions.
With his days of catching passes now behind him, McDougald, who added 10 pounds in the offseason and now weighs around 205 while standing 6-foot-1, said he was excited about the potential for his final two seasons on defense.
“Now that I’ve gained some experience and understand the game and the speed, all I’m really working on is my strength,” he said. “I’m trying to keep my weight up, but I also want to keep my speed up so I can be more of a weapon in the secondary.”
Terry, 6-2, 195, has considerably less college experience than McDougald — he played in just three games last season before missing the rest of the season with a leg injury — but also has something his defensive backfield partner does not — a father, Doug, who played four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Those genes, along with some serious tenacity and athleticism, have created quite a buzz about Terry’s potential. His high school coach, Blue Springs (Mo.) High’s Kelly Donohoe, says Terry deserves the hype.
“The kid’s a phenomenal free safety,” Donohoe said. “The way he covers the field, hits people, his instincts, his run to the football, hand-eye coordination to pick balls off.... He’s a freak back there. He really is.”
Confident but not cocky, McDougald and Terry seem ready to build on the success the Kansas secondary enjoyed a season ago. As a unit, KU’s pass defense ranked 71st in the country in 2010, surrendering 223 yards per game through the air, the team’s lowest total since giving up 227 per game during a 12-1 season in 2007. That team, of course, was led by future first-round NFL Draft pick Aqib Talib. McDougald and Terry haven’t reached that level yet, but there are plenty of people who believe they can.
“I think the only thing that’ll hurt us is we don’t have a lot of experience back there as far as college games,” Terry said. “But I think me and (McDougald) will do good back there. We’re both pretty smart guys. We have a lot of young guys so we have a lot of room to grow, but we’re definitely making great strides and doing great things out there.”