Safety Bryce Torneden young field general for KU football defense

Former Free State standout competing for starting safety position

LAWRENCE — The Kansas football defense has had its hands full this fall.


Tasked with practicing against the up-tempo offense installed this spring by new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, the Jayhawk defenders have had to speed up their own decision-making process and keep their heads on a swivel.

It may come as a surprise, then, that defensive coordinator Clint Bowen named a player who made one start and collected 10 tackles last season as an emerging field generals.

In fact, sophomore safety Bryce Torneden was the first on-field leader Bowen named.

“Bryce is a kid that sees the big picture,” Bowen said, “and gets it up front.”

The other players Bowen identified as field generals — linebackers Joe Dineen and Keith Loneker and defensive tackle Daniel Wise — likely wouldn’t surprise most KU fans. But Torneden, the former standout quarterback at Free State — has grown from a sparingly used true freshman nickelback to contender to start opposite Mike Lee at safety this fall.

It’s a year-to-year leap Bowen applauded.

“He’s done a nice job starting in the spring time of being able to understand how important reading your keys, taking proper angles (and) being aware of what the dangers of each coverage are,” Bowen said. “To his credit, he’s worked hard and improved.”

Torneden was a two-way player at Free State, but Bowen called him more of a “downhill missile-type safety” with the Firebirds. With that in mind, and after the decision was made not to redshirt the in-state recruit, Torneden was given responsibilities last season at the hybrid-style nickelback position, even drawing a start at West Virginia.

Bowen identified playing in space as Torneden’s biggest area of improvement.

“(That’s) why he played nickel that first year, just the spatial awareness of how much field there is sometimes when you’re playing safety,” Bowen said. “He’s starting to understand angles a lot better. He’s starting to understand the depth and the way you have to play back there. The big thing is his eye control, too. A year older, his eyes are in the right spot, he’s seeing his keys correctly and reacting. That’s what young safeties struggle with.

“So he’s improved a lot. He’s such a smart kid and hard-working guy that takes a lot of pride in it.”

Told of Bowen’s field general label, Torneden smiled but said it must carry over to games.

“I feel like me and Mike (Lee), we really need to step up as leaders,” Torneden said. “We’re not freshmen anymore, so we need to do what we need to do to help the back end of the defense, because I feel like we can be very good this year if the safeties step up.”

His starring role as Free State quarterback — Torneden was a member of The Topeka Capital-Journal’s All-State Top 11 team in 2015 — has helped him step up as a leader despite his inexperience.

“Throughout my life I was taught to be a leader and not a follower, and lead by example,” Torneden said. “I think that really shows in my game, on and off the field. I really aspire to be a leader.”

Listed at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Torneden said he’s gained 10 pounds this offseason, which he believes is all muscle — “Man, I hope,” he added with a laugh. He said he’s also been watching film of former KU safety Fish Smithson, who had “great instincts” and was “just a hustler” who always found his way to the football, Torneden said.

The switch from nickelback to safety hasn’t been too jarring to Torneden, who moves from 10 yards off the ball to 3 at his new position.

A member of an arguably overlooked secondary, Torneden said that topic is not often discussed among the team’s defensive backs — but it is something they are mindful of.

“I feel like we’re always going to have that chip on our shoulder,” Torneden said. “Not having too great of a record last year, we’re going to get overlooked. But that just makes for a better story. They’re not going to overlook us when we pop ’em in the mouth.”



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