Position Outlook: Linebackers

There aren't as many new faces in the linebacking unit for the 2012 Kansas Jayhawks, but things look different all the same. After a summer with Scott Holsopple, the veterans of this crew are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before.

Huldon Tharp has already had an interesting career at Kansas.

As a freshman in 2009, he made an impact almost immediately at outside linebacker, playing meaningful snaps and making a handful of big-time plays. It was a tantalizing glimpse into the future of a player who many expected would be the next great Kansas linebacker.

Then a freak injury suffered in the weight room prior to the 2010 season sidelined him for its entirety, and though he returned to health last season he never made the impact most predicted.

But 2012 is a new season and a new era for the Kansas Jayhawks under the leadership of Charlie Weis - and that means new beginnings for players like Tharp.

Healthy and stronger than ever, Tharp has claimed the WILL linebacking spot as part of, arguably, the most athletic Jayhawks group at the position in years. Tharp is joined by Ben Heeney at middle linebacker and senior Tunde Bakare at SAM.

Heeney, a special teams star as a true freshman, was moved into the middle role after fifth-year transfer Anthony McDonald was sidelined with a nagging injury - and he's responded well. His speed, athleticism and penchant for the big hit give the Jayhawks a versatile presence in the middle of the field.

McDonald will still play snaps. He's probably the closest thing to a "true" MIKE on the roster, but in order for the Notre Dame transfer to play to his maximum level of effectiveness he needs to be - in the words of Weis - turned loose. He's a physical player who thrives tackle to tackle, and so he will be held out until he's healthy.

Thankfully, there's plenty of depth in the middle, with true freshman Schyler Miles and redshirt freshman Jake Love. Love is a little more explosive and athletic, but Miles is bigger, more fluid - a more instinctual player.

Bakare dealt with injuries of his own during the 2011 season, his first as a Jayhawk, but he's got speed in spades. It remains to be seen now if he's developed the discipline to go with it. Fans should also expect to see plenty of Toben Opurum and Michael Reynolds - both hybrid defensive ends - at linebacker in certain sets.


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