LAWRENCE — Lorenzo McCaskill’s attendance Thursday at a football fall camp practice in Kansas didn’t go unnoticed.
After not yet being available earlier in the week when fall camp began, the transfer to Louisiana was here. Kansas defensive coordinator Brian Borland later explained that academic work related to McCaskill’s previous college stoppage is now out of the way, meaning the super senior linebacker can compete for playing time with the Jayhawks as many expected. And yet, the excitement with which Borland sometimes spoke, explaining why 2022 may be different for his side of the ball compared to 2021, was by no means focused solely on McCaskill or McCaskill’s positional group alone.
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Because, as Borland assessed what the Kansas defense needed to help the team move forward under head coach Lance Leipold after going 2-10 in 2021, Borland decided he simply needed more competitive talent in Division I. In addition to the development that may have occurred with various returns, the Jayhawks did just that with the multitude of transfers they brought. And the transparency with which Borland explained why, coupled with the enthusiasm he exhibited days after fall camp, could very well signal the type of trajectory the Kansas defense has been on.
“We all know we’ve got nowhere to go, but up from last year…just to be honest about it,” said Borland, whose defense ranked last in the Big 12. Conference in terms of scoring, total defense and run defense in 2021. “And we had to improve. And I think the players who have been in our program from the beginning, have done a wonderful job of development at all points of view and that they’re better players now. But the fact that, yeah, we knew we had to go find some and that’s just kind of the nature of the business. And, like I said , I’m really excited by the number of guys.
On the defensive line, this was accompanied by additions to the defensive ends with redshirt junior Lonnie Phelps (Miami (Ohio), junior Davion Westmoreland (Hutchinson CC) and second Dean Miller (College of the Canyons). round out a group that brings back super-senior Malcolm Lee, whom Leipold praised on Tuesday, among others. senior Sam Burt and others, Leipold pointed to Kansas splitting defensive line coaching duties between two assistants to explain how the Jayhawks struggled to defend the run in 2021.
Borland thinks it’s possible they can get beyond their two depths down the line without too much of a drop, something he couldn’t say a year ago. There’s versatility in that, which he pointed out.
With linebackers last year, Borland didn’t feel like they could put a lot in plays and feel good. But while it was “in the raw” in 2021, in 2022 he said there were more stable options that would allow them to both tolerate injuries better and provide more breaks for guys. Simply put: people like Rich Miller senior and Gavin Potter senior will have more help.
In addition to McCaskill, at linebacker redshirt senior Eriq Gilyard (UCF), redshirt junior Craig Young (Ohio State) and sophomore Tristian Fletcher (Trinity Valley CC) were all traded. Young, like McCaskill, is definitely someone to watch in the fall. the camp progresses.
Along with high school, Borland estimated they were also lean there in 2021. Enter at the security point sophomore Jalen Dye (Palomar College), senior redshirt Jarrett Paul (Eastern Michigan), and junior redshirt Marvin Grant (Purdue). Enter super-senior Monte ‘McGary (Utah State) and redshirt junior Kalon Gervin (Michigan State) at cornerback.
There are key returns to safety like senior Kenny Logan Jr., second Edwin White-Schultz and second OJ Burroughs. The same goes for cornerback, with sophomore Jacobee Bryant and redshirt sophomore Ra’Mello Dotson. But these additions should undoubtedly help the Jayhawks better defend against the pass, which ranked no better last season than his ability to stop the run.
“We just added every position,” Borland said. “So it’s – you name the place, from first guy to last guy, there’s better quality and more quality players playing at a higher level. So I expect us to be better. In fact, I know we are. I know we’re going to be better.
Borland isn’t saying Kansas will go 12-0, and considering Kansas’ last decade of football before Leipold and company took over the program in 2021, it would be shocking if that’s what Borland was saying. But he’s adamant they’re going to be different and added, “Those are some of the words we talk about with our guys, ‘Hey, we have to be different. After three practices at fall camp, that confidence has by no means dissipated.
Last year, Borland explained, because the team’s depth wasn’t where it wanted it, players would burn out over the course of a game. They would compete, but over the course of the contest, the efficiency would decrease. Now, he thinks, the defense will be able to stay fresher for longer.
Whatever that means in terms of wins will be determined over time. It’s still early in Leipold’s rebuild, so that might not translate to more than a win or two more in 2022. It might happen in games that just aren’t as lopsided as last year and past years.
“Coach Borland, he coaches us every day,” Burroughs said. “He wants to bring out the best in everyone. So he feels like we’re going in the right direction. So we’re just going to keep stacking the days.
Dotson added: Yeah, “They believe in us a lot. So everybody – with them believing in us like that, everybody comes together and they believe more too. So like, every year they’re going to say, like, ‘We’re going to win more games.’ But, people really believe this year. Like, we all believe this year. So, I feel like we’re going to have a really good year this year.
The first opportunity to show the change Borland is pushing will come Sept. 2, when Kansas hosts Tennessee Tech in Lawrence for the season opener. Tennessee Tech has a new offensive coordinator, so Borland and company traced the newcomer’s history and analyzed footage from past saves. In time, this preparation will turn into the implementation of a game plan.
No, an FCS opponent will not provide the same test as a Big 12 foe like West Virginia next week or Houston the week after. Defensive success against an FCS opponent in 2021 was not an indicator of future success that season. But there is clearly a level of comfort with which Borland and others operate, which might provide the indicator in itself.
“I think it’s just the comfort and the confidence of having been through this and knowing a little bit more about what to expect is helpful,” Borland said. “And also, then, it gives you – to know which way to go, doesn’t it? So last year is a bit – you kinda guess and try to figure it out. I think we have a clearer picture of what we’re doing right now.
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas athletics at the Topeka Capital-Journal. Reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.