Kanak adds experience to athleticism heading into second season

When DaShaun White was called for targeting in the second half against UTEP, the Sooners turned to freshman Jaren Kanak to take over the cheetah position the next week at Nebraska.
It was a sign of the Sooners’ looming depth issues last season, but it also offered a glimpse into the potential of one of its young linebackers. At Big 12 media days earlier this month, OU head coach Brent Venables was quick to point out that the season before, Kanak was primarily a quarterback at Mays (Kan.) High School.
But on that Saturday in Lincoln, Kanak’s potential as a college linebacker was on full display.
On the first play from scrimmage of the second half, Kanak ripped the ball away from a Nebraska ball carrier. The freshman was all over the field, and ended up leading the team in tackles in a blowout win over the Cornhuskers.
Venables said Kanak has a lot of room to grow heading into his sophomore season.
“He had to learn how to get in a stance,” Venables said. “We had him at cheetah last year and we’re just trying to spread guys out and some guys can’t play cheetah, so instead of backing everybody up at one position, spread ’em out.”
Through the first three games of last season, Kanak had 17 total tackles and appeared to be one of the rising young stars on Venables’ defense. But the young linebacker still had a lot to learn, and White was a senior and one of the team’s top defenders.
Kanak finished the season with 24 total tackles and only recorded two tackles over the final five games.
“It was a good experience, getting a little taste of it and it motivated me more,” Kanak said at spring practices. “I know I can be better than I was last year, obviously. It just motivated me more to come out here and work towards being a better player.”
Even at 6-2, 232 pounds, Kanak is incredibly athletic. He played wide receiver before switching to quarterback his senior season.
That year he rushed for over 1,600 yards, which set a single-season school record.
“He’s a guy that’s a 10.4 100-meter guy, let’s put the fast guy out there in space and let’s see how they can help us,” Venables said.
Danny Stutsman is now the leader of the position group, and most crucially, has experienced many of the same things that Kanak is going through.
Meanwhile, Venables hopes that the new additions his staff brought in during the offseason will help solve some of the depth issues from last year. Dasan McCullough, a transfer from Indiana, has displayed many of the key attributes the team is looking for at the cheetah position.
The cheetah is a key position in Venables’ defense. A hybrid between a linebacker and a defensive back, the cheetah has to be able to play and space while offering run support when needed.
True freshmen Taylor Heim, Lewis Carter, Samuel Omosigho and Phil Picciotti should also add to the depth at linebacker this fall.
“There’s a lot to learn,” Kanak said about Venables’ system. “Nobody’s going to master it. Probably Coach Venables is the only one who has mastered it. There’s still a lot to learn. We’re all working toward knowing as much as possible. That’s why getting in and getting those film sessions is super crucial.”

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