RCW: Football Defensive Preview
For the 2017 Jayhawk defense, it all starts up front.
The Kansas defensive line is the anchor as it features the Big 12 Conference’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year for the first time in school history in junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr.
Armstrong was a dominating defender during his sophomore campaign. He exploded onto the national radar after a breakthrough season in which he became Kansas football’s first unanimous All-Big 12 Conference First Team member. Injured in the preseason, Armstrong did not reach 100 percent until the third week of the season, when he began becoming a player opposing offenses game-planned around. In the remaining nine games Armstrong was among the best defensive players in the country, and finished 2016 ranked fifth in tackles-for-loss and 18th in sacks.
Armstrong tallied more sacks from his defensive end position than any Jayhawk has posted in the last 15 years with an even 10.0 – all in the final nine games. Showing versatility, Armstrong wreaked havoc in the backfield on a weekly basis by disrupting 20.0 plays before the opponent could reach the line-of-scrimmage in 2016. An incredibly quick rusher off of the edge, he brought the quarterback down in seven games, while recording six-straight contests with a sack.
Armstrong’s own teammates, who have to face him in practice each week, are impressed with his skillset.
“There’s no set way that you can block him,” sophomore offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji said. “You always have to be on your toes because he can always pull something out of his bag.”
While Armstrong is the highest-touted returning Jayhawk, he is not alone when it comes to players who have already found some success and are looking for more. Fellow junior defensive lineman Daniel Wise returns as a disruptive force on both defense and special teams.
Wise earned an All-Big 12 Conference honorable mention selection in 2016 from the league’s coaches. Over the span of his two-year career, he has played in 23 games and accrued 64 tackles to complement 15.5 tackles-for-loss. The product of Lewisville, Texas, has never taken a play off, blocking three kicks in two seasons.
“Daniel Wise is a dominant player along the interior line,” Beaty said. “He is a very smart player, but also has great instincts. What I like most about him is the passion he plays with, it is contagious and when he is playing at a high level, he brings all of his teammates along with him.”
In addition to Armstrong and Wise, the KU line returns senior defensive tackles DeeIsaac Davis, Jacky Dezir and Isi Holani. At the defensive end positions, junior Josh Ehambe and sophomore Isaiah Bean look to be big contributors opposite of Armstrong.
The Kansas linebackers will be bolstered by the return of Joe Dineen Jr., who was sidelined for the majority of the 2016 season. Prior to his season-shortening injury in the third game, Dineen had accumulated 16 tackles and 3.0 stops behind the line-of-scrimmage. When fully healthy as a sophomore in 2015, Dineen wrapped up 86 tackles – good for second on the team.
Dineen will be flanked by a trio of Jayhawks with experience in juniors Keith Loneker Jr., Denzel Feaster and Osaze Ogbebor. Also looking to get some playing time at the linebacker spot are redshirt freshman Dru Prox and true freshman Kyron Johnson.
While the Kansas secondary is having to replace three departed starters from 2016, sophomore safety Mike Lee is back for his second season after finishing his freshman campaign as the fifth-best tackler in the Big 12. Lee started eight games and accrued 77-total tackles on his way to earning freshman All-America honors in 2016. The New Orleans native produced several big hits and ranked fourth in the NCAA in solo tackles per game.
As great of a freshman season as Lee had, defensive coordinator and safeties coach Clint Bowen thinks there is a lot more in store for him.
“Mike is just touching the surface as far as what he is capable of doing,” Bowen said. “He has all of those things you just can’t teach. He is one of the most instinctual players I have ever coached. I am looking forward to working with him the next three years, because as talented as he is now–it is only the beginning.”
The rest of the secondary will feature players who have little experience in the KU program, but who have impressed during fall camp. Sophomore safety Bryce Torneden has been getting reps opposite of Lee, along with juniors Tyrone Miller Jr., and Emmanuel Moore. Sophomore Hasan Defense and junior Shakial Taylor are pushing to to be the first guys playing at cornerback.