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Offseason Overview: Examining the D Tackle position

3 min read
KU newcomer Devin Phillips, a transfer from Colorado State, is one of the players the Jayhawks are counting on along their remade defensive line in 2023. [Matt Tait photo]

We’ll learn a lot more about the Kansas football program and its outlook for the 2023 season in a couple of months, when preseason camp is in full swing and the Jayhawks really begin preparing for the encore performance to last year’s Liberty Bowl appearance.

For now, though, let’s set the stage for how things look heading into camp.

What’s important? What’s known? Key question marks and players in need of a breakthrough performance for the Jayhawks to take that next step all will be covered in our Offseason Overview series.

Next up: Examining the D Tackle position

The defensive tackle spot might be the one position under the biggest microscope for the 2023 Kansas football team, both because of how many players KU lost from its D-Line in the offseason and because of how much better the Jayhawks need to get on the defensive side of the ball to take the next step.

The D tackle spot is also an exciting position to keep an eye on this season because of the potential breakout performers that could be waiting there. That includes both newcomers and returners.

It was clear on the recruiting trail that the Kansas coaches wanted — and needed — to bring in more talent at the position.

The numbers game made it a priority, but they also were looking for big, physical bodies who they could add to the competition in the trenches to push the returning players and give the Kansas defense a lift.

Gage Keys (Minnesota), Austin Booker (Minnesota) and Devin Phillips (Colorado State) were three of the biggest names who transferred to KU this offseason. And all three of them said the chance to play for Leipold and defensive line coach Jim Panagos played a huge part in their decision to pick Kansas. So, too, did the Jayhawks’ return to winning.

Phillips (6-2, 325) started every game at CSU and he’s eager to see what his game looks like at the Power 5 level. Booker, at 6-6, 245, has a different build than the stout Phillips and he can use his size and length — along with his strength — to create issues up front. At 6-5, 280, Keys has similar traits and the two taller tackles also have shown the ability to get after the passer.

One other newcomer worth mentioning is true freshman Marcus Calvin, a 6-2, 308-pound tackle from Gibbs High in St. Petersburg, Florida. Calvin might not be quite ready to become a key part of the rotation on the D-Line in Year 1, but he has a big personality matched only by his big frame. Sooner or later, he’ll be a factor and a mainstay on the D Line for Kansas.

Of the returners, junior Jereme Robinson, who played in all 13 games for KU a season ago, has a chance to be the best all-around player on KU’s D-Line this season — defensive tackles and ends included. He’s a physical player with a terrific motor and his development has been steady throughout his three years with the program.

He played in six games as a true freshman in 2020, appeared in nine games during Leipold’s first season at KU and was a key part of the KU defense last season. In addition to more time on the field, Robinson improved his numbers, as well, recording a career-best 34 tackles (22 solo) and three sacks during the 2022 season. He also forced two fumbles and recorded 8.5 tackles for loss.

In addition to a bigger, more visible role on a more consistent basis, Robinson has his eyes on jumping into more of a leadership role, as well.

Tommy Dunn Jr., a 6-3, 310-pound bruiser, is another player who has breakout potential. Dunn was starting to show signs of a breakthrough late last season, and now in Year 3 in the program, he believes it’s his time to dominate. D.J Withers (6-4, 300) is another returner with potential to increase his role and importance, and veterans Caleb Taylor and Ronald McGee will work to provide experience, even more veteran presence and able bodies as needed.

There are plenty of players at this position with the potential to play huge roles for the Jayhawks in 2023. The key will be finding some sort of pecking order, with at least a couple of them emerging as workhorse type of players and quality depth falling in line after that.

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Here's a look at the other entries in our KU football Offseason Overview series:

• What depth & talent bring to KU's QB room

• The race for running back reps

• Examining the D Tackle position

• The value of the old men of the O-Line

• How many tight ends will KU utilize in 2023?

• Major upgrades for KU's kicking game

• Getting more explosive at linebacker