LAWRENCE — When fall camp began, Kansas coach Charlie Weis raved about the potential of junior college transfer Cassius Sendish, who was slotted to start at nickel back. Sendish had the athleticism to play cornerback and the strength and speed to stop the run. And for Weis, he was the perfect weapon to combat a spread-out, aerial attack.
Weis may have been right, of course, but a more pressing concern caused him to change course. Sendish was listed as the Jayhawks’ starter at free safety on Tuesday when Weis released an updated depth chart in preparation for Saturday’s season opener against South Dakota at Memorial Stadium. Junior college transfer Isaiah Johnson will start alongside him at strong safety.
“We felt good at the nickel position, but we were really concerned at the safety position,” Weis said. “We didn’t feel that we had any inherent depth that had any experience at Big 12-caliber football.”
The added depth at nickel, Weis said, surfaced when junior Victor Simmons, an Olathe North graduate, had a breakout fall camp.
“He went from a safety to a linebacker,” KU defensive coordinator Dave Campo said. “And now he’s kind of a hybrid, which is great. Victor has had an excellent camp in my opinion. I think the light’s turned on for him.”
Junior college transfer Sampson Faifili beat out incumbent Jake Love at weakside linebacker, while senior Kevin Young, another Olathe North grad, is back in the starting lineup at defensive end, replacing highly touted juco transfer Marquel Combs at that spot. Combs, meanwhile, is now listed at second team at nose tackle behind starter Keon Stowers.
Junior JaCorey Shepherd locked down a staring cornerback spot, and junior Dexter McDonald and Fort Scott Community College transfer Kevin Short were listed as co-starters at the other corner. Short arrived late to fall camp, but Weis reiterated on Tuesday that Short has the ability to be a major contributor.
Weis said he had no update on offensive lineman Pearce Slater, a junior college transfer who left the team during fall camp. For now, all signs point to Slater not returning to KU this fall.
Finally, senior running back Taylor Cox will begin the season as KU’s kick-returner. Because of KU’s immense depth at running back, Weis said he considered redshirting Cox — the only running back on the roster with a redshirt remaining — but two factors made the difference. Cox aspires to play on Sundays and is already older than most college seniors, and Weis said Cox was competitive with backup Darrian Miller during fall camp.