So much has already been written about how bad the 2011 Kansas Jayhawks defense was, that we won't spend a whole lot of time on it today. We will, however, point out that many of the problems started up front.
And it's easy to see why there were problems. The depth was nonexistent. Two of the three starting down linemen weighed 285 and 270 respectively. It was a unit that had some experience, but was short on personnel and girth - two things sort of essential to success in that aspect of the game.
The difficulties up front impacted the defense in its entirety. Linebackers had opposing blockers in their face on every play, and the limited pass rush meant the secondary had to cover sometimes for five or six seconds before the quarterback even released the ball. It was, to put it simply, a bad situation all the way around.
But on paper, boy does 2012 look different.
It starts with the newcomers. Nebraska fifth-year transfer Josh Williams will bring a long, athletic pass-rushing presence to the edge, while Keon Stowers and Jordan Tavai are big, athletic bodies up front. Tavai so impressed the coaches during his few weeks on campus - he arrived late due to delays in his junior college schedule - that he earned the starting nose tackle job over veterans John Williams and Kevin Young. And Stowers is backing up a revamped Keba Agostinho at the three-technique.
But the returning players are ready to make their mark as well. The aforementioned Williams and Young are in the best shape of their careers, and Williams is at last back in the 300-pound range after spending the past two seasons in the realm of 285. Most importantly, he's healthy - returning from a season-ending injury last year.
Big things are expected of Toben Opurum this year. With improved play inside the versatile senior, who will play both linebacker and defensive end, should experience much more frequent one-on-one situations with opposing defensive tackles. His speed and quickness off the edge, combined with that of Williams on the other side, will give the Jayhawks their best chance at generating a pass rush from the front four since the departure of Charlton Keith and Jermial Ashley many moons ago.
Keba Agostinho had played defensive end almost exclusively during his first two seasons in Lawrence, Kan., but when strength coach Scott Holsopple got ahold of him this summer his body began to pack on muscle at an incredible rate - ultimately adding 15 pounds and topping him out at 285. Now on the interior, his natural speed and quickness are amplified and not gained by sacrificing size. He's big and quick.
If this outlook comes out sounding a little rosy...well...it should. Compared to the situation Kansas faced on defensive line during each of the past two seasons, what they have in the holster this season is an embarrassment of riches. Now all they have to do is prove it on the field. No biggie, right?
Fans will get their first look at the revamped Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff versus South Dakota State is scheduled for 6 p.m.