Defense making progress

Wednesday, it was Kansas defensive coordinator Dave Campo's turn at the microphone for the second time since training camp began. He spent some time providing the media with an update on his defense, and getting a little more specific regarding some of its components.

* Since the spring, one of the things Dave Campo has wanted to see from his players were the things they can do independent of their talent level. Give effort. Hustle. Fly through the football.

They're important. And sure, one could argue those are important to any defense, but for one trying to rebound from a disastrous two-year stretch they're not just cliches - they're the foundation of the journey back to success.

Fortunately, thus far Campo is pleased with their progress in that regard.

"And for us to be successful, that's us," he said. "It has to be us. And you know I've made that a priority from the start of spring football. Guys hustling to the football and surrounding the ball, and for us to survive in this league - which is a spread open league - we've got to be able to tackle and get people to the ball. And I think that's something that we've accomplished."

* A few months ago, Campo was less optimistic about the speed of his defense - as were many Kansas fans. They'd seen their players abused by bigger, more athletic offenses time and time again during the past two seasons.

Now, the first-year defensive coordinator thinks things may be looking up, thanks to Scott Holsopple's strength and conditioning program as well as an influx of new talent.

"And when I say 'speed' I'm not just talking about the defensive backs down the field," Campo said. "I'm talking about linemen running to the ball, linebackers running to the ball. I think as a team we're probably a little bit faster than we were in the spring, and that helps us."

* When one recruits a cornerback, the hope is he's already got the instincts for the position within him. Technique and athleticism can be improved, but the best defensive backs just have a knack for the position before they even set foot on campus.

With the corners at Kansas, the problem isn't instincts - not even with the newcomers - but rather with their consistency, the aspect of the game Campo feels is the toughest for a college defensive back to learn.

"They're not used to playing against an outstanding receiver every single play, every day," he said. "In high school, they're going to play against some guys that are not as good as they are. A lot of them. Now all of a sudden they get into the Big 12 and they're playing against someone every bit as good as they are every single play."

The issue then becomes a matter of urgency, Campo explained. A corner needs to treat every possession, every down, as if its the most important.

"The urgency of technique, the urgency of knowing you're playing against a guy who is every bit as talented as you are - and maybe better," he added. "That's something with the tempo, the ability to get the guys to full speed every play, that brings about the urgency that they need to be able to make that transition."

* Arguably the jewel of the recruiting class of 2012 - senior transfers not withstanding - was Florida linebacker Schyler Miles, who shunned offers from home-state Florida and West Virginia, among others, to make his way to Lawrence, Kan.

A 6-foot-2, 227-pound middle linebacker, Miles is chomping at the bit to play early and currently sits second on the depth chart behind Notre Dame senior transfer Anthony McDonald. Thus far, Campo likes what he's seen from the athletic MIKE.

"The one thing he does have is those instincts we were just talking about," he said. "Now it's just making sure he understands our scheme and what we're trying to accomplish. I think he's done a nice job to this point."

Nice enough to guarantee him playing time?

"These first two weeks, we're still gonna make decisions based on the guys that are going to help (us) going forward," Campo said. "I would say he's definitely going to see playing time, and then we'll see how it goes from there."

* Much as is the case with Weis, this is not Campo's first experience being part of a major reclamation project.

His first year in Dallas, the Cowboys went 1-15. And while the Big 12 is not the NFL, he will start to look for some of the same signs as the season goes along, to assure himself that things are moving in the right direction.

"The one thing that we did with that group in Dallas going back was at the end of the year the defense was starting to show," Campo said. "Even though we were losing ball games we were getting better every week. That's how we moved forward quickly to get to the Super Bowl in four years."

Though nobody will mistake the current Kansas defensive roster for the most potent defenses of which Campo was a part in Dallas, there is raw material to work with on Mount Oread.

"We've got some talent here," he said. "We have some talented players on defense. But at the same time we've got to work as a total unit to get better. And that's really where we're at right now. We're still a work in progress."

* Most of the time, when a football program signs a junior college prospect its because he's ready to provide an immediate impact. He's experienced, he's presumably talented, and will need less coaching and instruction than a high school freshman.

That wasn't really the case with cornerback Nasir Moore.

A 6-foot-1, 170-pound athlete, Moore switched to corner after his sophomore junior college season had already started. It was the first time he'd played the position, but he quickly proved he not only had the speed and athleticism to do so, he also had the instincts Campo covets - coming close to snagging double-digit interceptions.

"We need some guys to play right away," Campo said, of their junior college signees. "But we don't need every guy to play immediately. I think Nasir is learning an awful lot and learning it at a faster pace because he's a little bit more mature than some guys coming from junior college - but he's on a learning curve for us."

* Sometimes lost in the transfer shuffle behind names such as Dayne Crist, Jake Heaps and Justin McCay, senior linebacker Anthony McDonald is poised to make an immediate impact on the Kansas defense this season.

They recruited him expecting certain things from him, Campo explained, and thus far it looks as if they were justified in doing so.

"I think we felt that he had some playing time and some experience and he's definitely a leader," he said. "He's shown that. We knew he was a tackle to tackle type of linebacker. He wasn't going to be a guy that we put in space. We knew he would be a guy who would be a pretty good hitter and that's what we're seeing. I don't think anything has changed."

* One area in which Campo feels as if the defense has taken a step forward is the defensive line, beyond even what they expected or hoped for the position following the spring.

The expectation now is that they will be solid up front against Big 12 competition, which was one of the biggest problems the Jayhawks of 2011 faced.

"I'm not gonna sit here and make a prediction as to what we're going to do," Campo said. "But I think we have some guys who will give us a chance to compete."

Much of the focus from fans and media on the defensive line has been on the personnel they currently don't have at their disposal - JUCO products Ty McKinney and Jordan Tavai. While Weis maintains both are expected to arrive as soon as their final junior college classes end - as soon as the end of this week - Campo and his staff are moving forward with what they have.

And what they have appears to be a big step up from the thin, injury-riddled line with which Kansas has dealt in recent years. Nebraska senior transfer Josh Williams is looking like a major boon at defensive end to pair with Opurum, while tackles Keba Agostinho, John Williams, Kevin Young and Keon Stowers all possess the size and strength necessary to succeed.

So they move forward without McKinney and Tavai - for now.

"Those guys, we think they're going to be able to do this but we don't know until we get them out on the field," Campo said. "So we've gotta move forward with the guys we have and get them to where we hope they will be. And when those guys come in we start with them and, hopefully, they jump right in and are a part of that unit."

* It would be hard to deny that Huldon Tharp has already had to learn the value of perseverance during his short career at Kansas.

After a sterling true freshman season in 2009 that saw him log 59 tackles, start seven straight Big 12 games and earn post-season honors from numerous publications, a leg injury suffered during training camp caused him to miss the entire 2010 season.

He returned to the field last year but for whatever reason failed to match the productivity of his freshman season. Now, with a new staff in place and completely healthy for the first time in a long time, Tharp is - at the moment - part of the starting lineup once again.

"I can't speak to what happened before," Campo said. "I only know that he was a pretty good player his first year out. I think, obviously, he feels better, more upbeat. Something happened where he didn't get much playing time (last year) - whether it's injury or whatever. If he stays healthy he's a good football player and we want him involved."

* Michael Reynolds was one of the unquestioned stars of the spring game with his speed as a pass rusher off the edge, racking up multiple sacks.

And while fans have been salivating at the thought of he and Opurum causing hysteria in opposing backfields, Campo said that - like everyone else - the native Kansan is a work in progress.

"A guy like Michael Reynolds, I'm kind of counting on him to have a role," he explained. "Now, whether or not he has that role will be determined by what he does in the next three weeks. We'll see what happens from there."


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