Blaney on the Defense

Today marks the first open spring practice. Pretty much anybody who watches the team knows the stars and the starters to watch, but Kansas assistant coach Brandon Blaney, who also serves as Kansas's recruiting coordinator, breaks down some of the young players, or the not-so-obvious players to watch on the Jayhawk defense.

Arguably the strongest position on the Kansas defense is at defensive tackle, where the Jayhawks return all of their top players from a year ago. It's also a position where Kansas may boast some of its best young talent.

"I think there's a good mix there of experience and good young talent," Blaney said.

Blaney said sophomore Darius Parish and freshman Duane Zlatnik fell into the "good young talent" category.  Parish in particular, Blaney said, had worked through the offseason to tone his body to where it needs to be for the Big 12 season, while Zlatnik took advantage of his redshirt year last year.

"He's doing a great job in his development," Blaney said. "The first year is always a tough year. It's your first year of college, and if you're redshirting, you aren't playing in games. But Duane is doing a good job of sticking with it and improving."

At defensive end, Blaney mentioned D.J. Marshall as a standout through workouts.

"D.J. has done one of the better jobs in terms of coming in and working hard to get better," Blaney said. "He's another one of the guys who gets better every day. He has just a great work ethic, and we expect him to keep at it."

At linebacker, the Jayhawks will have to fill the shoes of three-year starters in James Holt, Joe Mortensen and Mike Rivera.

"We have a good amount of speed there," Blaney said. "But any time you lose what we lost with James, Mike and Joe, you have a void."

Blaney said converted running back Angus Quigley could be one of the players to step into that void.

"He's just a great, great athlete," Blaney said. "He has all of the measurables. We're hoping he adjusts quickly."

Blaney said Kansas would likely use fewer and fewer three-linebacker sets because of the booming expansion of spread offenses. When they do play linebackers, Blaney said it was important that they be athletic enough to make plays in space.

Josh Richardson, a redshirt freshman, seems to fit that bill athletically.

"He's really just learning how to work, and he's coming on a bit," Blaney said. "He's a bit of a late bloomer, but he's working hard at it."

Justin Springer, the projected starter at middle linebacker, is expected to be healthy and ready to go by fall camp.

At defensive back, Blaney said two players to keep eyes on would be junior college transfer Calvin Rubles at cornerback and freshman safety Lubbock Smith. Rubles (6-foot-3 200 pounds) is another player who had great measurables, Blaney said.

"He's big, he's fast and he can run," Blaney said. "I'm pretty excited to see what he can do."

Blaney said Smith came on through the last part of last year.

"He has a lot of speed and he has the ability to cover a lot of ground," Blaney said. "He has really done an outstanding job. He has a good football sense, and he will be fun to watch develop."

Blaney said Daymond Patterson would also stick at cornerback, despite speculation that he could move.

As for any other position changes, Blaney told Kansas fans to "stay tuned."

"We have always believed that if you're one of the best football players on our team, we will find a spot on the field for you," Blaney said. "That's not going to change."

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