‘Quiet leader’ Robinson could steady KU defensive line

photo by: AP Photo/Lucas Peltier

Kansas defensive end Jereme Robinson answers questions from the media during Big 12 NCAA college football media days in Las Vegas, Wednesday, July 10, 2024.

Las Vegas — Kansas defensive end Jereme Robinson may have been off the field during spring practice as he recovered from an offseason surgery, but he made sure he wasn’t absent.

“I had to try to find new ways to implement myself for the team,” he said at Big 12 media days on Wednesday. “You know, you get lost in, ‘Oh, I’m not a part of the team because I’m not doing what they’re doing.’ But no, I found new ways, different ways to connect with my teammates and find out what I can do from there.”

On or off the field, Robinson has cemented himself as a team leader — head coach Lance Leipold said he “does everything you want” and is “well respected within that locker room” — at a position group certainly in need of one.

Robinson and veteran Youngstown State transfer Dylan Wudke will make for a powerful duo on the strong side of the defensive line, but between little-used JUCO transfer Dean Miller, Michigan State transfer Bai Jobe and freshmen Dakyus Brinkley and Deshawn Warner, among others, it’s anybody’s guess who will see time on the weak side.

“It’s what it is right now,” Leipold said. “We got to deal with that. We have some youth. We’re so old at some other spots, we’re going to have some young guys, and that’s where it might be a little more rotational because of keeping them fresh and keeping them healthy, because we know they’re going to go against some big human beings.”

Robinson’s seen a host of promising signs from the “hungry” young players already.

“My main thing for them is just telling them to stay grounded and when your time comes, your time comes,” he said. “Be ready for it.”

The senior Robinson would know, as he’s had his number called on a variety of occasions over the years, even dating back to his freshman season in 2020. And even as Leipold replaced Les Miles as head coach, and Taiwo Onatolu later replaced Kwahn Drake on Leipold’s staff, Robinson saw his snap count steadily rise each season, from 79 snaps in 2020 to 280 to 480 to 655, per Pro Football Focus.

“He’s one of those guys that went through a lot of coaching changes,” Leipold said, “but again, just a steady, well-respected player and a good football player.”

Even if much of the pass rush will come from the weak side, it’s worth noting that Robinson can get after the quarterback from his own position, as he himself noted during his media-day appearance. (“Well, without counting myself…” he began, when asked who could be KU’s sack leader in 2024. “Just got to put that one out there.” In fact, Austin Booker’s departure for the NFL does indeed make Robinson the Jayhawks’ returning sack leader, with 4.5 last season.)

The very fact that Robinson got picked to represent KU at media days for the first time speaks to what Leipold called his status as a “quiet leader.”

“Before we left, our coaches were telling us we deserve this moment, we’ve done what we needed to do, we know our standard, we know how well we can represent our university, so go out there and do it,” Robinson said.

He’ll have a golden chance to represent on the field too. Robinson said he’s ready to get back into practice again with the benefit of some offseason rest: “I feel fresh, I feel renewed.” In fall camp, he says, you need “to not just pace yourself but to break your pace.”

“You really want to strain yourself a little harder than you think you would around this time just so you know what it would be like once game time hits,” he said.

That’s because he wants to bring a consistent presence to the defensive line: “I need the same energy that I’m going to bring Week 1, I got to bring it Week 9. It has to be the same me the whole season.”

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