Sims Sees Improvement From D-Line

Sept. 18, 2009

LAWRENCE, Kan – Even after a strong performance from the defensive line against UTEP, Kansas defensive line coach Tom Sims knew the group wasn’t where it needed to be to accomplish its goals for the 2009 football season.

Sims wanted his players to feel good about their performance last Saturday in El Paso, but at the same time encouraged them to keep their noses to the grindstone, to keep working hard and never let up.

“The thing about what we do, it is a humbling game and the second you think you have accomplished something or you’ve made it somewhere, you get your butt kicked,” Sims said. “That’s just the nature of it.”

If statistics told how dominating a particular group was, KU’s defensive line statistics from last Saturday certainly told an impressive story. For the game, the Jayhawks’ defensive line recorded four quarterback hurries, one pass break up, seven tackles for loss and five of the team’s six sacks.

What is the secret for success on the defensive line so far in 2009 after being a concern last season? Fundamentals instilled by Sims. In fact, he said it was pretty simple.

“Don’t tell anybody, but this is what I teach: Go left, go right, or go straight ahead; but if you go backwards, you know you messed up,” Sims, a 12-year coaching veteran who is in his first season at KU, explained. “Defensive line is not rocket science, however, it is extremely detail-based and there are a whole lot of little things that tie together to make you a consistently good defensive lineman.”

Based on Saturday’s performance, Kansas Head Coach Mangino was also pleased, but recognized, like Sims, that competition would be stiffer as the season progressed and the line would have to continue with fundamental play. Mangino said he had a feeling coming into this season that the defensive line would be better pass rushers although he knew the group as a whole needed to be better fundamentally.

“We needed to take care of the little things in the pass rush like getting a good jump on the ball,” Mangino described. “Our kids have really worked hard and we drilled the heck out of pass rush work in training camp. I know the kids were probably sick of it, but they’re starting to see the benefits of doing it.”

The Jayhawks are ranked among the top 20 teams nationally in several defensive categories including scoring defense (sixth), sacks (tie-sixth), red-zone defense (tie-seventh), rushing defense (eighth), third-down percentage (14th) and first-downs allowed (tie-16th).

Sophomore defensive tackle Patrick Dorsey has been one of the pleasant surprises on the defensive line in the first two games this fall. Dorsey made his presence known in the backfield Saturday with a sack which resulted in a nine-yard loss.

“Our focus is to be one of the key focal points of the defense,” Dorsey said. “For the d-line to get back there and keep getting sacks, that’s a big thing for us.”

Offensive lineman Brad Thorson said he has noticed during practices that the defensive line was getting better both as a group and individually.

“I’ve seen a big improvement in leadership, not to say last year lacked it, but a lot of guys took not only vocal leadership positions, but silent leadership positions with their work ethic,” Thorson pointed out. “I think a lot of it is recognition that they wanted to be better against the run and be the pride of the defense.”

Another one of the linemen that showed his true potential in Saturday’s game against the Miners was senior defensive end Maxwell Onyegbule. The 6-5, 252-pound end from Arlington, Texas finished the game with six tackles, three total tackles for loss, one pass break up, two sacks, and he was also credited with a quarterback hurry. Onyegbule’s performance in his home state earned him co-Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors for the first time in his KU career.

Another position on the field that has benefited from the recent success of the defensive line is the defensive backfield. Sophomore cornerback Daymond Patterson said it made a big difference for the defensive backs knowing that there is a consistent pass rush and that the linemen were getting to the quarterback. With the quarterback moving around, the throws are less accurate. With more bodies in the opponent’s backfield, the quarterback has to be on his toes making sure somebody’s not about to hit him.

“That always makes them hesitate and now the ball is coming out faster so you don’t have to cover as long,” Patterson said. “And when you don’t have to cover as long, you can jump more routes and make big plays.”

With the defensive line’s lack of a pass rush last season, Sims was under the microscope coming into this season in his first year at Kansas. A former defensive tackle for seven years in the National Football League himself, Sims said people looked at the number of sacks KU had the first two weeks of this season and wanted to credit him, but he simply related the sacks to be byproducts of stopping the run.

The sacks came naturally as result of containing the opponent’s run game Saturday night as the defense held UTEP to just four rushing yards on 20 attempts.

“The first thing you have to do is put people in positions where they have to throw the football, then when they have to throw the football, you have to cover behind us and create time for us to get to the quarterback and they did an excellent job of that Saturday,” Sims said. “When you combine those two things you can have a good pass rush.”

After watching tape of Duke for this week’s game at Memorial Stadium, Sims noticed a big improvement in the Blue Devils’ play from week one to week two. He observed that they were more physical and that they will present challenges for KU on a lot of different levels.

“They have a capable offensive line, they’re well coached, the quarterback has a lot of experience, and they have a few backs that kind of do it by committee,” said Sims. “When you put that all together, they present a challenge. We’re going to have to bang heads with them all day to get it done and get the W.”

Look for Sims and KU’s revamped defensive line to come out strong in the third non-conference game of the 2009 season when Kansas hosts Duke at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 19 at 11 a.m.