LAWRENCE — For the second straight year, the Kansas defense has made major alterations to its personnel in the middle of the season.
So it was not at all surprising that defensive coordinator Clint Bowen on Tuesday tried to separate last year's switches — moving Daymond Patterson from wide receiver to cornerback, Chris Harris from cornerback to nickel back and Justin Thornton from free safety to cornerback — from this year's. Despite what it may look like, Bowen says this has not become a yearly ritual driven by panic.
"Last year, I feel like we had to make those (moves) because guys truly weren't getting the job done," Bowen said. "This year, it seems we're making the moves more in a positive way. Some guys really showed up that can help you. It was just an opportunity that we took advantage of more than a necessity of something we had to do."
Still, coaches aren't known for tinkering with something that is working. In both 2008 and '09, the Jayhawks were shredded two games in a row before reevaluating. In the Colorado game last week, redshirt freshman defensive tackle John Williams and redshirt freshman free safety Lubbock Smith got their first starts. Before long, it became apparent that freshman cornerback D.J. Beshears had played his way up from the scout team to compete with Patterson, last year's surprise starter at cornerback against Texas Tech.
A year later, it was Patterson who was suddenly sitting for most of the 34-30 loss to CU.
"I was disappointed about the amount of time I played," Patterson said. "I'm not sure exactly why we have made big changes in the secondary two straight years. They're going to put who they think are the best players out there."
As of Wednesday night, it was becoming more clear whom the coaches consider the best players heading into the Oklahoma game:
* Mangino said that Beshears will get the start over Patterson.
"D.J.'s a physical kid," Bowen said. "He'll come up and tackle people and put people on the ground."
* Smith will continue to play over Thornton in most situations. Thornton, the senior who has played every position in the secondary during the last year, will only play on clear passing downs.
"It's a rough deal," Bowen said. "The competition around him increased."
* Freshman standout Bradley McDougald, recruited by Ohio State and a number of other schools to play safety, will play both wide receiver and safety the rest of the season. Bowen indicated that McDougald won't be used as often as Beshears and Smith.
Mangino's decision to move McDougald, a gifted receiver, showed his willingness to do whatever it takes to stop the bleeding.
"Our philosophy here has always been 'try to put our best guys on defense,' " Mangino said. "There are some guys who are extremely talented, but they are not made for defense. Dezmon Briscoe is not made for defense. That is not what he does. Kerry Meier is not built for defense. He is an offensive player. But there are some kids who have the skill sets for both, and Bradley McDougald is one of them.
"We have tried to put our most athletic guys and our guys that can play a physical-style ball on defense, as well as trying to recruit to that."
The new-look Jayhawks will surely have their growing pains the next few weeks against the spread offenses of Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
"Just gotta be careful and make sure you don't mess the thing up too much and get too many things going on," Bowen said.