As with the offense, I'll begin my consideration of the 2010 Kansas State defense, a.k.a. the apprentice Lynch Mob, with a position of considerable strength — the defensive backfield.
Specifically, I'll highlight the three positions that define the 4-2-5 defense. That's right — it's Safety Sunday.
K-State's safeties come in three flavors: Cat, free and strong. But the latter two basically are interchangeable in this system, whereas the Cat safety is a hybrid safety/linebacker/nickel back position.
As you'll see later this week, we might need them. Follow the jump for more.
The Last Line of Defense
Not much needs to be said about Wichita product Tysyn Hartman. He came to K-State as a quarterback, but Ron Prince threw him into the deep end of the swimming pool as a safety against Texas Tech. At first, he barely could tread water, but after a full season and a half at the position, Tysyn now is more like Michael Phelps back there. And it showed against Nebraska, when he left with a knee injury and the Huskers struck the new vulnerability in our back seven for the decisive touchdown. Expect Hartman to contend for first-team all-conference honors this season.
#12 Ty Zimmerman
Ty Zimmerman very well could follow a trajectory similar to Hartman's. After four years as a QB at Junction City High, he transitioned admirably to safety in the spring and filled in for Hartman, who still was rehabbing his knee. Although I imagine Bill Snyder would prefer the redshirt the youngster, he might have no choice but to play him in order to have a capable backup ready to go by Big 12 play.
#21 Troy Butler
Troy Butler might be the single most underrated player on the team. You hear quite a lot of noise about Hartman and Lamur, but the same respect doesn't seem to extend to Troy, even though he fills an integral role in the defense. The Cat safety is responsible for covering a third receiver much like a nickel defensive back would, but with added run responsibilities like a linebacker. Butler did both very well last season, and hopefully will continue to do so in 2010.
#22 Thomas Ferguson
Thomas Ferguson is a promising young player who should serve as Butler's primary backup. He played in 11 games last year as a true freshman and started against Missouri, which gives him an unusual amount of experience for a player his age. Much like Thomas Randolph and Andre Coleman, Ferguson was pressed into action early and often because depth in the secondary is thin, but as with his predecessors, that should pay dividends in later years.
#23 Emmanuel Lamur
All the Haitian Sensation did was lead the team in tackles last year and basically snatch victory from the jaws of overtime against Iowa State. But as good as Lamur was early, his tackle count increased dramatically toward the end of the season — and he still has room for improvement. His position coach, Keith Burns, has criticized Lamur's over-reliance on big, physical hits. If Burns can instill more refined pass-defense instincts in his star player, Lamur could become the most feared K-State safety since Mario Smith.
#24 Dahrnaz Tigner
It's a make-or-break season for Tigner, in my opinion. In three seasons, he has made next to no impact despite having a big, physical body primed for strong safety or even linebacker. Part of the fault lies with Prince, who played him for just one game in 2007 and sparingly in 2008. In an attempt to correct the damage, Snyder redshirted Tigner last season. Now we'll see if the coaches can salvage the last two years of a once promising but still athletic player.
#25 Joseph Bonugli
Like Zimmerman, Bonugli got a head start on his freshman season by graduating early and participating in spring ball.
He was fairly impressive in the spring game, netting an interception and delivering several punishing tackles. I would expect either he or Zimmerman will redshirt this season, but the coaches can't afford to put both of them on the scout team. Besides, if Hartman suffers re-injury to his knee, both freshmen will need to be prepped for action.
#28 Logan Dold
Speaking of make-or-break seasons driven by poor coaching decisions by Prince, Logan Dold has to top that list.
Prince insisted on playing him at running back as a true freshman after the Leon Patton incident, even though many contended even in 2008 that Logan's best position was safety. Well, sure enough, Snyder and Vic Koenning came in at the end of the year and moved Dold to where he needed to be. Unlike Tigner, however, he did not redshirt, but played sparingly on special teams. He also suffered a fairly serious shoulder injury that he has been rehabilitating.
I expect Dold to be on the depth chart somewhere and maybe see playing time, but with only two years of playing time remaining, I'm not sure he'll ever be a starter. A redshirt season might be in order, if only to balance our classes.
#29 Tanner Burns
Coaching is a slight question mark in the secondary, which was the only unit forced to adapt to a new position coach in the spring. But Keith Burns comes with a solid resume, most recently as defensive coordinator at San Jose State.
One side benefit to Burns' arrival was that he brought his son, Tanner, with him. Tanner was the defensive MVP for the Spartans, leading them in tackles last season with more than 90. Basically, he was their Lamur. After he sits out a season as a Division I transfer, I expect him to make an immediate and significant impact in 2011, perhaps replacing Butler as a starter opposite Lamur and Hartman.
#30 Drew Mueller
Mueller is listed at 5-foot-9, 176 pounds, so he's pretty damn small for a safety. However, I'm guessing we didn't recruit him out of Iola, Kan., as a speedy cornerback, and I noticed he was a high school quarterback, which seems to fit the Hartman-Zimmerman profile pretty well. He redshirted last season and likely will function as a scout team member this season.
#32 Roman Fields
Of the many walk-on defensive backs listed on the roster, Roman FIelds is the only one in excess of 205 pounds, so I listed him here despite not knowing precisely where the coaches intend to line him up. Plus, the others were listed as track participants in high school and have prototypical size for cornerbacks, so I felt my sorting choices were appropriate.
That said, Fields probably will remain a scout team member only. Depth at Cat safety instead will be provided by David Garrett, a cornerback who cross-trained at safety in the spring and might even have moved there, had Darious Thomas and Courtney Thompson not left the team this summer.
Depth Chart Predictions
- Starter: Troy Butler
- Backup: Thomas Ferguson
- Third-String: David Garrett
- Starter: Tysyn Hartman
- Backup: Logan Dold
- Third-String: Ty Zimmerman