Defense was one of the few things the Kansas Jayhawks did fairly well in 2014.
Their overall statistics can be misleading since they were on the field far more than most defenses in the country. Kansas football also played a murderer’s row of offenses, including West Virginia, Baylor, and TCU. When those factors are taken into account, the 33 points per game given up by the Jayhawks does not look as bad as it does at first glance.
Now for the bad news: the Jayhawk defense loses seven starters from last season’s defense, including All-Big 12 performers and NFL draft picks Ben Heeney, JaCorey Sheperd, and Dexter McDonald. KU is also switching defensive schemes, from a 3-4 alignment to a 4-2-5, similar to what Gary Patterson and TCU have run to great success in recent years. Who are some players that could take advantage of the available playing time and new scheme? A few come to mind.
First is defensive end Ben Goodman. A former linebacker, Goodman will play on the line this season as a potential force in the pass rush. Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen promised a more aggressive defense this season, which should free up athletes like Goodman to get after the quarterback and increase the Jayhawks’ tackles for loss and sack totals. With former pass rush specialist Michael Reynolds lost to graduation, Goodman will likely play a key role for the Jayhawk defense in 2015.
In the new 4-2-5 scheme, the Jayhawks will play with four down lineman, two true linebackers, two true cornerbacks, one true safety, and two linebacker/safety hybrid defenders. One player who could fit the mold for the hybrid defender spot is rising junior Tevin Shaw. The staff and talent evaluators have described Shaw as one of the best pure athletes returning for the Jayhawks in 2015. Last season, Shaw recorded 36 tackles, including 2.5 for loss. The new scheme plays into Shaw’s strengths as a rangy athlete, and with the mass exodus of defensive backs from last year’s team, Shaw could see major playing time in a new position for Bowen’s defense.
A newcomer that could see a big role for KU is safety Bazie Bates. A three-star junior college recruit, Bates was one of the signees the staff was very excited about on Signing Day. A good athlete and big hitter, Bates could play safety or a hybrid S/LB position for Bowen’s defense. Bates was a good enough athlete to play cornerback for Trinity Valley Community College (TX) last season. This year, he could move to safety and play a major role. Bates was KU’s leading tackler during the spring game, making five solo and two assisted tackles for the white team. Look for Bates to gain more playing time as the season wears on.
With new faces, a new scheme, and a lack of depth for the Jayhawks in 2015, the season promises to be a challenge for Bowen and his defense. However, the staff seems excited about some newcomers and returning starters. Ben Goodman could even compete for All-Big 12 honors. Goodman, along with Tevin Shaw and Bazie Bates, could have a huge impact on the Jayhawk defense and Big 12 this upcoming season.