Kansas cornerback Mello Dotson was asked repeatedly during the Jayhawks’ media availability earlier this week how much his role would change with cornerback Cobee Bryant suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game at Nevada following a targeting call last week.
No matter how many times he was asked — or by who — Dotson gave the same answer.
“My role’s no different this week,” said the junior from Daytona Beach, Florida. “It’s proven that we have other players in the room that can step up and take control of that position.”
One of the more soft-spoken and reserved players in KU’s cornerback room, Dotson spoke with poise and confidence while talking with reporters.
The answer is not far-fetched in his mind. In fact, it’s little more than business as usual for a team that’s suddenly full of players like Dotson, guys who have enough belief in themselves and their teammates that even losing a starter or two does not go down as cause for concern.
In the past, such absences — defensive end Austin Booker will also miss the first half as a result of his own targeting penalty last week — might have been crippling, and the already-green Jayhawks might have had to plug in replacements who simply were not ready to take the field.
But today, the Jayhawks will counter the suspensions with true veterans, Dotson being one of them.
Cornerbacks Kwinton Lassiter, who leads the team in interceptions, and Kalon Gervin will pick up the slack for Bryant’s absence. And redshirt seniors Hayden Hatcher and Patrick Joyner Jr. will hold things down at Booker’s position.
“It ain’t nothing for Gerv,” Dotson said of the sixth-year senior who started his college career at Michigan State in 2018. “I was just trying to make sure Kwinton was locked in and keep him steady on the smallest things because he’s never started before. But, for my job, nothing needs to change. I just feel like I need to make sure Kwinton’s on point. He’s got to step up big this week and I know he will.”
One of the things that Lance Leipold and his coaching staff have been most pleased about during their third year in Lawrence is the consistent development of so many players that they’ve had from the beginning.
Back in 2021, when Leipold first took the job and inherited a whole new roster, learning names was equally as challenging as finding out whether any of them could play. Because of the way the roster was constructed then, Kansas handed some of the most important positions to freshmen and second-year players who were still growing.
Those Jayhawks made up one of the youngest rosters in all of college football, and, what was viewed as a sign of hope at the time has become a strength and even an advantage for the 2023 Jayhawks.
“I quickly had a flashback to two years ago sitting here and barely knowing the names and we’re the youngest Power 5 football team in the country,” Leipold said this week, when asked about the make-up of KU’s defensive depth chart, which features 10 upperclassmen as starters at the 11 positions and 17 of the 27 players listed classified as juniors or seniors.
The song is the same on offense, where 19 of the 29 players listed on the most recent depth chart are listed as juniors or seniors.
“It’s great to see these guys develop,” Leipold said. “That’s what this is about. And if we can keep some of the younger ones coming along, you know, that stabilizes what we want to do.”
Taking things a step further, 9 of the 22 positions on KU’s offensive and defensive depth chart are made up entirely of players who have been with the program for at least four seasons.
While that type of development and continuity has been a big factor in KU’s recent climb from ineffective bottom feeder to intoxicating contender, it also makes adversity like Leipold’s team is facing this week much easier to handle.
“Kalon Gervin has played a lot of football; Kwinton Lassiter, he’s made some plays for us,” Leipold said. “So, we do have guys that can go out there and play. And if you can weather the storm of those (other) guys not being out there, it just adds to your depth and confidence as you move along.”
The Jayhawks are not in any way short on confidence these days.
And that’s starting to become a common theme that extends to nearly every position on the roster.
Saturday's kickoff at Nevada is slated for 9:30 p.m. central on CBS Sports Network.
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