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Jayhawks return their linebacking crew: Defense will be the key to Kansas success

John Helsley Published: July 27, 2008
Kansas returns its three leading tacklers from a year ago — all at linebacker.

Quarterback Todd Reesing may be the popular poster boy for Jayhawks football, but linebackers Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and James Holt provide the true snapshots into KU's hope for continued success on the heels of a 12-1 season that produced an Orange Bowl championship.

Kansas led the Big 12 in scoring defense and total defense in 2007, ranking fourth and eighth nationally in those categories.

Nine starters return on defense, which is why the Jayhawks — despite offensive losses and a stiffer league schedule — shouldn't be tossed aside when assessing league contenders.

"We may have a tougher schedule and all that, but that's what we want,” Rivera said last week. "We want to have those challenges and those big games. We look forward to it. Those are the games we want to play at KU.”

Rivera and his pals don't flinch.

Seniors all, they started each of KU's 13 games last season.

The linebackers, the Big 12's best, combined for 301 tackles, including 38 for 150 yards in losses.

Mortensen is the man in the middle, a returning first-team All-Big 12 pick and on the watch lists for the Lombardi and Nagurski awards.

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