After playing most of his first two seasons at wide receiver, Kansas University’s Bradley McDougald found himself shifted to safety for the final two games of his sophomore season.
Although McDougald, a junior from Dublin, Ohio, originally committed to Ohio State as a safety, the switch back to defense had its roadblocks.
For one, McDougald was forced to get used to playing with 10 new guys and getting calls from a completely different coach. Beyond that, his first start at safety — Nov. 20, 2010 at home against No. 12 Oklahoma State — came against one of the most potent offenses in the country.
With five additional starts stashed in his memory bank since that game, McDougald considers himself much more prepared to face the Cowboys a second time, which Kansas will do at 2:30 p.m. today in Stillwater, Okla.
“I’m much more confident in a lot of areas,” McDougald said. “When you go into a game like that, where you’re facing one of the best offenses in the nation and you only have three days of scout team (to get ready for it), you’re going to be a little shaky and a little hesitant about a lot of things.”
It didn’t show. Although the Jayhawks were drubbed 48-14, McDougald was one of the few bright spots that afternoon. He finished second on the team in tackles, with eight, and added one pass break-up in coverage.
“He’s come a long way,” said sophomore Tyler Patmon, who started with McDougald in KU’s secondary during the final two games last season. “It was kind of hard for him that first Oklahoma State game, coming downhill and making tackles. But now he’s kind of adjusted to that and he’s able to make his read and come downhill or make his read and sit back and play zone. He seems very comfortable.”
It’s not just the physical aspects of the game that have McDougald feeling at home out there. After playing free safety for the first three games, McDougald and red-shirt freshman Keeston Terry swapped spots last weekend. As a result, McDougald took on the extra responsibility of making the defensive calls along with keeping an eye on Texas Tech’s top receivers.
“He’s taken to it just fine,” Terry said. “And I think him being on the other side is actually playing to his strengths a lot more, as well.”
Added KU coach Turner Gill: “I think he’s well prepared. He still has some things he needs to learn, but I think he’s playing OK. I think every game he’s gotten better and better and he’s prepared to play strong safety. But he can play both. He really can.”
McDougald said he prided himself on being versatile and Gill said that was something he noticed right away.
“Oh absolutely,” Gill said. “There’s probably quite a few positions he can play, both offensively and defensively. He’s a very smart young man, strong-minded, has good athletic ability and he’s a physical player too. He fits well in our program. He’d fit well anywhere.”
So far this season, McDougald has started all four games and ranks fifth in tackles, with 21. He also has one of the team’s five sacks and a pair of pass break-ups.
“I learned that I have to slow the game down,” he said. “It takes much more off the field to be a productive safety. It takes a lot of film watching, a lot of hard work off the field that people don’t recognize. Just understanding concepts and filling gaps. Now that I have a lot more confidence, I’ll be able to play a lot faster and, at the same time, slow the game down. Just read my keys and make plays.”