Spring steps forward: Kansas Jayhawks

We'll take a look at some of the Big 12's breakout stars this spring, but we'll move forward with a series today looking at guys who will be stepping into bigger roles this season and what they have to provide for their new teams. Some are emerging from role players into starters. Some are going from starter to star. Some from stars to bona fide superstars.

Let's move on with Kansas.

Kansas' spring step forward: LB Ben Heeney

Heeney came out of nowhere to have a huge 2012 season after playing sparingly as a true freshman in 2011. He earned a starting spot and held down the middle linebacker spot for the Jayhawks all season, making 112 stops, third most in the Big 12 and earning second-team all-conference honors despite the defense's struggles.

This year, Kansas needs even more from him. He's got to continue to progress as a player, but KU needs leadership from him, too. Senior linebacker Huldon Tharp left the team because of injury issues, and Toben Opurum and Bradley McDougald are gone, leaving the defense in need of leaders. That's where Heeney steps in. The 6-foot, 225-pounder has good speed, but with an influx of new junior college and high school talent that will be on the field right away, Heeney has to help set the expectations for what the new coaching staff wants on a day-to-day basis and he's got to know defensive coordinator Dave Campo's system as well as anyone, if not better. Leadership is more than just leading by example. There's going to be a lot more faces and a lot of those faces will encounter times of confusion early this spring and into the season. Campo having a second coach in the locker room and on the field is going to help the entire unit mesh this season and start the path back to being a real threat in the conference.

Heeney can be a big part of making that happen.

See more Big 12 spring steps forward.