Ben Heeney was a unanimous All-Big 12 linebacker who finished his career with more than 300 tackles. He was drafted by the Oakland Raiders. JaCorey Shepherd was a first-team All-Big 12 selection at cornerback who was fourth in the nation in passes defended. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles. Dexter McDonald was veteran cornerback who turned in a solid senior season after a standout turn as a junior. He was also drafted by the Raiders.
Which leads us to this: The Kansas football team finished 3-9 last season, another frustrating year in a string of them. Another coach was fired. A few more embarrassing losses were scribbled onto the ledger.
But for all the losing, the Jayhawks did feature a decent list of defensive standouts, which means a 3-9 football team must now attempt to replace three of its best players — three players who could be on NFL rosters this fall.
That’s the story of the Kansas defense, which returns senior defensive lineman Ben Goodman and little else, as it begins fall camp under first-year coach David Beaty. Kansas will begin practice on Thursday, 30 days before the season opener against South Dakota State.
As Kansas prepares to begin fall camp, The Star is breaking down the Jayhawks’ roster and their most pressing questions. We previously discussed the offense. Here’s a look at the defense:
Key returners: Senior defensive lineman Ben Goodman; junior linebacker Courtney Arnick; senior safety Fish Smithson
Key losses: Linebacker Ben Heeney; cornerback JaCorey Shepherd; defensive lineman Keon Stowers; cornerback Dexter McDonald; safety Isaiah Johnson
Key newcomers: Junior cornerback Brandon Stewart; junior safety Bazie Bates IV; freshman Dorance Armstrong Jr.; junior Damani Mosby; junior Anthony Olobia
Three positions to watch:
After the graduations of Ben Heeney, Michael Reynolds and Victor Simmons, the Jayhawks were bracing for a major overhaul at the linebacker. Then came more bad news earlier this summer. Starter Jake Love, who would have been a senior, retired from football for health reasons.
That leaves the unit extraordinarily thin. Junior Courtney Arnick, who started five games last season, is perhaps the leading returner. Junior Schyler Miles is also back after taking a medical redshirt last season. And sophomore Kyron Watson enters his second season after playing mostly special teams as a true freshman.
In April, South Carolina linebacker Marcquis Roberts announced he was headed to Kansas as a graduate transfer. He hasn’t been added to the official roster yet, but should join the fold during fall camp.
2. Defensive line
In the spring, Beaty said the defensive line could be one of the Jayhawks’ strengths, which was mildly surprising because the defensive line has been something of a question mark the last couple seasons. Look closer, though, and the position group has solid numbers and some intriguing players — even after the summer departure of senior Andrew Bolton.
Senior defensive end Ben Goodman is the most experienced player in the program. Former junior-college transfers Damani Mosby and Anthony Olobia are ready to go after both sat out last season. Senior defensive end T.J. Semke is a former walk-on who played significant snaps last season. And there are other names to watch: senior defensive tackle Kapil Fletcher; junior defensive tackle Tyler Holmes; and redshirt freshmen tackles D.J. Williams, Lay’Trion Jones and Daniel Wise.
3. The secondary
OK, here’s another position group with a total overhaul. The Jayhawks lost all four starting members of its 2014 secondary, including safety Isaiah Johnson, who transferred to South Carolina for his final season.
So who are the reinforcements? Junior-college transfer Brandon Stewart, a native of Cedar Hill, Texas, projects as a starter at cornerback, while his former juco teammate Bazie Bates IV could be forced into a role in the secondary.
Fish Smithson, who spent time at safety last season, has drawn praise from teammates for his leadership this summer, while redshirt junior Tevin Shaw could also be thrust into a bigger role.