Kansas will need defense for Big 12 success

June, 4, 2009
6/04/09
4:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas checks in at No. 22 in the preseason rankings compiled by my colleague Mark Schlabach.

The Jayhawks are ranked that high because of a potent offense keyed by quarterback Todd Reesing and a strong cast of offensive weapons around him.

The biggest concern about the Jayhawks has been their defense and specifically the loss of starting linebackers James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen from last season.

Any time you have to replace consistent producers like them, it's a big worry. But it might not necessarily be as troublesome for Kansas as you might expect.

First, Coach Mark Mangino is tinkering with a 4-2-5 defense that he expects he will use in most base situations. It's a good idea because of the heavy aerial attacks in the Big 12, but also because the four players he started in the final six games of the season all return. That group is keyed by a potential big-time producer in strong safety Darrell Stuckey, free safety Phillip Strozier and starting cornerbacks Justin Thornton and Daymond Patterson.

But the biggest reason I expect the Jayhawks to improve will be their depth up front along the defensive line. I really like Jake Laptad at defensive end who is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league. And I expect junior college transfer Quinton Woods to be an immediate force on the other side.

The Jayhawks also have a nice set of experienced tackles returning in Jamal Greene and Caleb Blakesley. Their experience will help them immeasurably in their second season together as starters.

It will be interesting to see how much the Jayhawks' statistics are altered with the losses at linebacker. Needless to say there's a lot of pressure on returnees like Dakota Lewis and Arist Wright. And I'm intrigued how much playing time that converted running back Angus Quigley will receive.

Another factor that will be interesting in the team's development will be what the addition of veteran co-defensive coordinator Bill Miller means to the group. Bill Young had all kinds of success with the defense and got much of the acclaim for the team that won the Orange Bowl two seasons ago.

When Young left, it was left to first-year coordinator Clint Bowen to start his program. There were some rocky parts along the way, considering they allowed at least 33 points in seven of their final 11 games.

Development in the defense will be the biggest key in the Jayhawks fulfilling their high preseason ranking and determining whether they will be able to contend for their first berth in the Big 12 championship game.

It won't necessarily be a surprise because Kansas' defense might not be as depleted as some might presume.

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