Ashley had strong debut

In a game that featured a relentless Kansas defense that pounded James Kilian into the ground, perhaps no performer was as impressive as Jermail Ashley.

The transfer from Tyler Community College was one of the less heralded recruits out of this class. Most of the talk focused on the freshmen of the class. When junior college players were the topic of conversation, Ashley was often overshadowed by Tyler teammate Theo Baines, or fellow linemate Charlton Keith.

But it was the 6-5 250 pound defensive end that stole the show in the Jayhawks 21-3 victory over Tulsa. He finished the game with three tackles for loss and a sack. He recovered a fumble that turned the game around. Perhaps most impressively, he did it from two different positions.

As tough to block as Ashley was from the defensive end position, he made a greater impact at defensive tackle in third-and-long passing situations. At that position, Ashley used his speed and a variety of club and swim moves that would make Michael Phelps proud.

His impact was much more than the one sack that he was credited for. On several occasions, Ashley was the first one to Kilian, forcing the Tulsa quarterback to scramble around, sometimes into another member of the defense. As a whole, the defense was able to collect six sacks, and Ashley lived in the backfield, never allowing Kilian to set his feet and throw from the pocket.

Perhaps most importantly though, Ashley offered valuable cover and depth at the position that Kansas might be lacking it most, on the interior defensive line. Giving Travis Watkins and Tim Allen a rest, and he made sure that the freshmen were not asked to do too much. Running on rested legs, Allen was able to come up with a safety in the second half.

It seems even the freshmen have gotten more pub than Ashley. But that seems to be the same ol' same ol' for the lanky defensive lineman.

When Mangino went out to look for "rangy prospects who could get after the quarterback," Ashley was an initial target, and well regarded as a division I prospect, but he became injured during his sophomore year at Tyler. Recruiting all but ceased for the defensive end.

In fact, Kansas was there to recruit Baines when Ashley's coach told the Kansas coaches that not only was Ashley no longer injured, but he was totally back to form. Ashley finished his sophomore year with 41 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles and 14 quarterback hurries in not even a full healthy season.

Kansas offered Ashley and he accepted, becoming an early signee and spring ball participant.

Still, he struggled to gain notice on a defensive line that included an explosive John McCoy, a returning starter in David McMillian, and a mass of speedy guys waiting to hop in. Greg Tyree was moved to defensive end from linebacker, and talk abounded that Brandon Perkins might do the same to improve what was a subpar group last season.

But McCoy was called up to the military and Perkins stayed put, leaving the line without the depth it had hoped for. When Keith struggled with eligibility problems, Ashley jumped right in to help plug the hole. Playing both defensive end and defensive tackle as McCoy did last season, Ashley showed off his quickness, blowing through gaps and creating havoc in the backfield.

But even after the effort, Ashley wasn't playing the part of star, still talking like a role player.

"I think playing defensive tackle is harder because it's more physical and you don't have as much room," Ashley said. "But I'll play wherever they want me to. If they say I would be better on the bench, then that's what I would do."

Based on Saturday's results, Ashley may have found his place. On the field.


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