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LJWorld.com weblogs Tale of the Tait

Six surprise performers through KU football's first four games

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By now, you’re all surely aware that we’re nearing the end of the Kansas University football team’s bye week.

But instead of taking the bye myself, I’ve spent the week looking back at the first four games of the 2012 season, trying to determine what went right, what went wrong and why as the Jayhawks sit at 1-3 overall, with the lone victory coming in the season opener against South Dakota State and two of the three losses coming in disappointing, fall-from-in-front fashion.

As we get closer to the end of the bye week, and therefore to the start of K-State week, it only makes sense to look ahead a little bit. So today, I’ll give you a quick look at the top six players who have surprised me during the season’s first four weeks, followed by a quick comment on why that’s the case and whether I think they’ll be able to keep their roll going.

And then Friday, in addition to our regular weekly chat — submit questions here — I’ll give you a quick look at the six Jayhawks I think are headed for better days in the next couple of months and could be considered breakout players by the time the season’s finished.

Anyway, enough about what we’re doing or what we’ve done, let’s jump right into today’s edition of the bye week blog, with the top six KU surprises of the first four weeks.

Kansas defenders Lubbock Smith (1) and Tunde Bakare (17) force Rice receiver Luke Willson out of bounds on a two-point conversion atttempt during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defenders Lubbock Smith (1) and Tunde Bakare (17) force Rice receiver Luke Willson out of bounds on a two-point conversion atttempt during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

1. Tunde Bakare — His stats don’t necessarily show it (13 tackles, 1 sack), but Bakare has been all over the field so far this season for the KU defense. His speed is what has made him stand out, as Bakare is one of the true burners on KU’s defense. The strides he made in the offseason with regard to a better mental approach to the game are what have made him effective. No longer is Bakare just running as fast as he can at a guy and not knowing what to do when he gets there. Bakare’s as tough as they come and has been in on a lot of plays that he didn’t necessarily end up getting stats for.

2. Dexter Linton — Pushed into extended action because of the injury to senior starter Lubbock Smith, Linton has impressed me more and more each week. We all knew that the junior from Arlington, Texas, was a solid athlete, but it’s been his brains and confidence that have made him effective in Smith’s absence. After being thrown into the fire against Rice without much experience, Linton has looked more and more sure of himself each week since and appears to be developing into a nice player. His emergence not only gives KU solid depth this season but also some much-needed returning experience in 2013.

3. Christian Matthews — I’ll admit it, I thought Matthews was finished when he fell off the depth chart at wide receiver during fall camp. I don’t think I’m alone. We heard next to nothing about this guy throughout August, but his performance in last week’s loss to Northern Illinois — five carries, 43 yards out of the Jayhawk formation — clearly shows that the 6-1, 200-pound junior is still very much a part of KU’s plans on offense. Look for him to be on the field more and more in the coming weeks as KU likely mixes more Jayhawk snaps into the offense.

Wide receiver Christian Matthews (12) stiff arms Sean Evans (2) on a run in the second half of KU's 30-23 loss to Northern Illinois Huskies Saturday, September 22, 2012, at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Ill.

Wide receiver Christian Matthews (12) stiff arms Sean Evans (2) on a run in the second half of KU's 30-23 loss to Northern Illinois Huskies Saturday, September 22, 2012, at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Ill. by Mike Yoder

4. Trent Smiley — The sophomore tight end has played a ton and has made a major impact on KU’s successful rushing attack. Haven’t noticed him? Pick any play and watch #85... He’ll be the guy driving his man down the field and still blocking through the whistle.

Kansas tight end Trent Smiley (85) walks off the field following Kansas' loss to TCU Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas tight end Trent Smiley (85) walks off the field following Kansas' loss to TCU Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 at Memorial Stadium. by John Young

5. Kevin Young — This offseason, Young dropped some serious and unnecessary weight and he finally looks like the player he was recruited to be. He’s more explosive on the D-Line than we’ve ever seen him, and his added muscle has transformed him into a ferocious tackler. Let’s just put it this way, KY’s one of those guys you don’t want to run into if you’re an opposing ball carrier.

6. Randall Dent — Still listed as a defensive tackle throughout the spring, Dent shifted to offensive line when fall camp opened and, a few weeks later, worked his way into the starting role at right guard. He has not been flawless in that spot, but the simple fact that he was able to move up that fast and perform as well as he has is impressive. The 6-4, 300-pound junior certainly looks comfortable in his new home, now he just has to become consistent.

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