Linebackers Huddle for Media in Monday's Camp Session
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Following its first major scrimmage of the season Sunday, the Kansas football team returned to the practice fields wearing helmets and shoulder pads on Monday. Before a tough practice in the heat Monday afternoon, the media had an opportunity to interview requested linebackers at the Anderson Family Football Complex.
In a high-powered offensive league like the Big 12 Conference defenses have to be able to play in space to contain opposing offenses. So far in the preseason, head coach Charlie Weis has been pleased with the progress he has seen from the defense. After a few offseason tweaks to certain positions, speed and athleticism are two things that can be found at each level of the Jayhawk defense.
“The defense is flying around out there,” Weis said. “They are just flying around out there. They’re going to cause us and everyone else a lot of problems. I love our team’s speed right now.”
Kansas may not boast the oversized, run-stuffing linebackers that other programs have, but according to Weis, what the group loses in size, it makes up for in speed, agility and thanks in large part to senior preseason All-American Ben Heeney – the group is as tenacious as they come.
“What did they say about Heeney?” Weis said. “Too short, not big enough. Anyone who says he’s not fast enough, they obviously don’t watch the same games that I watch. This guy is a legitimate front line player. I’m not reaching when I say that he might be as good as any defensive player in the league, period. I truly believe that. Look, I watch all the defensive guys every week, and I would want Heeney on my team.”
Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen agrees that Heeney being the leader of the position group is a good thing because although he might be slightly undersized, he makes up for it on a daily basis with great effort and work ethic.
“The thing I appreciate the most is that when one of your best players – if not the best player on your defense – is also the guy who will go out and practice the hardest,” Bowen said. “On every single play he’ll play the hardest and that makes it easier to point out to the other guys that if that’s how our best player plays, that’s how we all need to play. His motor, his intensity and the way he brings it every single day really sets the tone for everyone else. He really helps create a lot of our tempo and our identity as a defense.”
Realizing this is his last collegiate football season, Heeney is feeling a sense of urgency for the team to have success this upcoming season. He does believe that the identity of the defense is moving in the direction because of veteran leadership.
“I think right now things are in a very good place,” Heeney said. “I can tell it’s night and day compared to previous years. I think the leadership we have is a lot better, because a lot us of know this is our last go around. If we don’t succeed, we are not going to. We have a lot more pressure.”
A player who is flying under the radar so far that will be able to help take some of that pressure off of Heeney and others is junior linebacker Jake Love. Last season, Love played started eight games and saw action in all 12 matchups. He was credited with 58 tackles, 36 of which were solo stops. Equally as important, Love had two pass breakups and led KU with five quarterback hurries last year playing into his strength as a pass rushing, disruptive linebacker who can get quarterbacks away from the comfort of the pocket.
Bowen added that offenses shouldn’t overlook Love because he is the type of player who can quietly fill a stat sheet and impact the game.
“Jake is one of those guys that doesn’t make a lot of plays that makes everyone go, ‘ooh and aah,’ in the stands,” Bowen said. “At the end of every game, when you look at his numbers, there’s a lot of production out of Jake Love. He finds ways to make plays throughout every game. He’s where he’s supposed to be, he’s another very tough guy and smart guy. He is very underappreciated for the amount of things he can do.”
Heeney reiterated that preseason speculation means nothing and the individual awards don’t mean as much as team success. Overall, Heeney explained that his ultimate goal for his career at Kansas is to play in the postseason.
“I want to go to a bowl game more than anything else,” Heeney said. “Just to experience it. I know it’s one of the best experiences to have as a college football player. I don’t want to be home on Christmas – I want to be somewhere practicing for a bowl game.”
KU KICKOFF AT CORINTH SQUARE
The ninth annual KU Kickoff at Corinth Square, sponsored by First National Bank, will be held on Friday, Aug. 22, beginning at 6 p.m.
Kansas Athletics and the KU Alumni Association will join forces to host the family-friendly event located at 83rd & Mission Road in Prairie Village, Kansas. KU football head coach Charlie Weis and women’s basketball head coach Bonnie Henrickson will each address the crowd at Corinth Square.
Also sponsored by Shawnee Mission Health, the KU Kickoff at Corinth Square will include food, drinks and KU giveaways as well as inflatable games for kids. The band Coversmith is scheduled to perform from 8-10 p.m. A limited number of coupons for Corinth Square vendors will be available for members of the KU Alumni Association and Williams Education Fund who show their membership cards.
On Tuesday requested offensive linemen are scheduled to meet the media for interviews. Wednesday, Aug. 20 Weis will sit down and introduce the 2014 team captains to the public.
To stay up to date during fall camp follow the Jayhawks online via 2014 Fall Camp Central and on Twitter @KU_Football.
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