Huge spring has Kansas safety Jalen Dye on the brink of a big role with the Jayhawks
photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World photo
One of the biggest stories of spring football at the University of Kansas was the emergence of sophomore safety Jalen Dye, who has firmly worked his way into the mix in the KU secondary and figures to be a key part of the Kansas defense this fall.
The opportunity to do so presented itself right away, when starters Kenny Logan Jr. and Marvin Grant were ruled out for spring ball before it even started.
Instantly, the KU coaching staff pointed to Dye as a player who could really benefit from the opportunity that was laid at his feet this spring. And Dye wasted no time in taking advantage of the extra reps and increased eyeballs on him.
The soft-spoken, often-quiet second-year Jayhawk even started to assert himself in new ways this spring, not only with how he played but how he understood the game, as well.
Dye’s father, Jermaine, who was a two-time Major League Baseball All-Star and the MVP of the 2005 World Series after playing in Kansas City from 1997-2001, was one of the first people to pick up on that, and the younger Dye laughed when thinking back to a phone call between him and his father midway through spring practices.
“He says he sees now that I’m playing more confident and that my football IQ got higher,” Dye said. “Now, when I’m talking to him about things, sometimes he’s like, ‘Wait, what?'”
The older Dye played quarterback in high school. But the things his son has started to experience and embrace have pushed him past his father’s football knowledge.
That understanding, which led to defensive backs coach Jordan Peterson saying Dye has a better grasp of the KU scheme big picture-wise, allowed and inspired Dye to play faster, harder and smarter throughout spring practice.
It’s also led to his coaches trusting him more than they ever have.
“I don’t know that he was really ready last fall to fully play,” KU defensive coordinator Brian Borland said of Dye toward the end of spring drills. “But this spring, he’s really come around. Where if last fall he would have played, I would have been a little bit nervous about what’s going to actually happen out there sometimes. He’s really made some great strides.”
Dye credits his increased communication skills for most of that. With Logan and Grant on the sideline, Dye often found himself making calls on the field, whether during drills or in live scrimmages. As the spring progressed, he did so louder and with more confidence, which impressed the KU coaches and himself.
That confidence and the command of what’s happening around him and in front of him allowed the 6-foot, 195-pound Dye to use his instincts more than ever, gaining even more confidence with each successful step and correct read.
“This spring, I could probably count on one hand the times that he’s made some kind of schematic error or something like that,” Borland said. “And that’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of plays that he’s taken.”
When asked a couple of weeks ago for his favorite moment of the spring, Dye’s answer demonstrated exactly what that confidence has allowed him to do on the field.
It involved a head-to-head matchup between him and an offensive lineman, and the smile that showed up on Dye’s face gave away the end of the story.
“Dominick Puni came around and pulled and I put him on his back,” Dye recalled. “That was fun. He said, “You got me; I’m going to get you next time, though.'”
Puni, who stands five inches taller and 125 pounds heavier than Dye, very well might do that. But it seems to be a safe bet that Dye will be ready for their next scrum all the same.
Although the two sports they excel in are different, Dye said the best advice his father has given him is simple — stay hungry.
On the off chance that there’s a day that Dye isn’t operating with that approach, Logan and Grant are there to make sure he gets there.
“We talk every day,” Dye said of himself and KU’s veteran safeties. “Every day in film. Every day in practice. If they see something wrong, they correct it, which I like. They’re pushing me to another level that I was almost, like, not scared to go to, but I didn’t show at first. I think my overall game is just more confident and knowing the calls makes me play with a whole other level that I didn’t know I could unlock.”