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KU Changing Defensive Philosophy To Cope In Big 12
August 13, 2013
Wendell Barnhouse is a nationally-known and respected columnist who has spent over 20 years covering collegiate athletics. He has reported from 25 Final Fours and more than three dozen bowl games and has written about the Big 12 and its schools since the conference's beginning. Barnhouse will be updating the Big 12 Insider on happenings and behind-the-scenes information about the conference.

LAWRENCE, Kans. – Desperate times call for desperate measures. Faced with stopping the high-powered, fast-paced offensive schemes prevalent in the Big 12 Conference, some coaches are resorting to atypical measures.

Dave Campo is a long-time NFL defensive coordinator who had a stint as coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Going into his second season as the defensive coordinator at Kansas, Campo realized it was time for a change.

With a number of junior-college transfers added to help this year’s defense, there is more teaching to be done. Also, Campo realized that trying to work with position players (he handles the defensive backs) plus coordinate and execute the game plan was too much.

Linebackers coach Clint Bowen, a co-defensive coordinator at KU from 2006-09, will be more involved in game planning and calling the defense.

“We’ve made it into more of a community situation, and I think the game dictates that on this level,” Campo said. “We felt like we needed to get better in every unit: DBs, linebackers, D-line. And because we’re lining up with new guys, we felt like we needed to have more hands-on (coaching) individually with those guys.

“As a pure defensive coordinator, you can’t do that. If the only guy making the decisions is the defensive coordinator, he can’t go hands-on with a particular unit.”

To counter Big 12 offenses that spread the field with four wide receivers and also try to run the ball, Kansas will play a base defense that features five defensive backs. Junior-college transfer Cassius Sendish will be a key player; he can rush the passer, help stop the run but also cover in man and zone schemes.

KU’s defense is also working on making quick adjustments play-to-play. The Jayhawks will try to counter opponents who use no huddle attacks by making their defensive calls, as often as possible, without huddling up.

Heading into his second season, Charlie Weis is also making an adjustment. Next week in practice the emphasis will be on defense and the Jayhawks will go up tempo by using two offensive units against one defensive unit. One offensive 11 will run a play while the next offensive group will have a play ready, take the field and snap the ball in between 10 and 15 seconds.

“The whole deal is to practice at such a high tempo but I’ve never done anything like this before,” Weis said. “But that’s the nature of the game on offense now. The only way to give the defense a realistic look is try something like this. We think with doing it this way, if we can execute it right with two offensive units, it will help with the tempo of play.

“But when we get started, it could be the Bad News Bears reincarnated. It might look a bit comical until we get it entirely figured out.”

The Return Of Darrian Miller
As a freshman in 2011, Darrian Miller rushed for 559 yards and four touchdowns. A “four-star” recruit considered the top player in Missouri as a high school senior, Miller was a high-profile “get” for the staff that preceded Charlie Weis.

But Miller was one of nearly three dozen players that departed in a house cleaning once Weis took over early in 2012. Weis’ message: “You need to go get your life straightened out.”

Message received and life in order, Miller is back in Lawrence as a redshirt sophomore. He’s competing for playing time in a crowded backfield that includes senior James Sims, last year’s leading rusher. Miller, however, provides more of a breakaway threat and would appear to be in position to replace Sims in 2014.

“What (Miller) should be anticipating is trying to beat everybody out,” Weis said. “He’s been there before, right? So if I were him, I wouldn’t be content coming in trying to be anyone’s backup. I’d be trying to beat them out.”

Quick Slants
* Kansas was hoping to bolster its receiving corps with the addition of Nick Harwell, a transfer from Miami (Ohio). He was suspended by Miami after an arrest in March and had been lobbying the school for a chance to complete his undergraduate degree. That would have allowed him to play immediately at KU. That didn’t happen so Harwell will sit out this season as a redshirt.

* At 6-5, 295 pounds, Pat Lewandowski is over-sized to be a center. But in the spring, with that position sorely lacking consistent play, the Kansas coaching staff decided to move Lewandowski from tackle to center. Mike Smithburg, who had been working at center, moved back to right guard, a position where he is more comfortable. Aslam Sterling, who weighed 400 pounds a year ago but has slimmed down to 315, has taken over at left tackle for Lewandowski.

* The place kicking job is still up in the air. Michael Mesh, a walk on from Hutchinson Community College, made all five of his attempts Monday but Weis emphasized that consistency will be the main factor. Mesh also has a strong leg, making a 52-yarder in Tuesday morning’s practice. Weis said he would be comfortable having a short-range and a long-range kicker.

Junior quarterback Jake Heaps who will be the starting quarterback after sitting out last season after transferring from BYU:
“When you talk about how close we were to winning games last year, it was more of a mentality than it was actually physically. These guys have improved so much as football players and it’s just been so much fun to watch. We’ve improved so much as a football team and we’re just going to continue to get better and better.”

Kansas junior linebacker Ben Heeney, who led the team in tackles last season:
“In this league you have to have speed above all else,” Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney said. “You have to be able to run with these offenses.”

Coach Charlie Weis on the depth at running back and last year’s leading rusher James Sims:
“With all the running backs we have, he’s still clearly No. 1. James could have felt the heat, felt  the pressure from the competition. All he’s done has competed and played well. He’s tough and has good vision.”

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