The 2015 Kansas State Wildcats will not look much different than the 2014 version along the defensive line. Gone is two-year starter, and K-State single season record holder for sacks (tied with two others at 11.5), Ryan Mueller. He was often thought of as the motor that led the defensive line, so the big question mark for the DL is who will be his replacement. But there are no questions as to the two men starting in the middle, as well as the other DE spot.
Preseason All-Big 12 Senior Travis Britz returns to anchor the line in the middle. The senior team captain will look to bounce back after an injury forced him to miss the last several games of 2014. Britz earned a spot on the All-Big 12 list as an honorable mention after his sophomore campaign in 2013, and has been a stalwart on the line since playing in 11 games as a true freshman on the 2012 Big 12 Championship team. Britz has also made headlines on special teams, as he is tied for the K-State career record for FG blocks with five.
Joining Britz in the middle is former walk-on Sophomore Will Geary. Geary arrived in 2013 and took a redshirt, where he promptly wowed everyone in the weight room and earned the Overachiever Award for top freshman in strength and conditioning. That commitment has not stopped, as Geary was recently named a Top-25 "freak" in college football. Geary played in all 13 games in 2014 with five starts, three in the final three games as Britz's replacement, and led the DT's with 30 tackles.
One defensive end spot will be manned by returning starter Jordan Willis. The junior started every game in 2014 opposite Mueller, carding 25 tackles, 6.5 tackles-for-loss, and four sacks. Willis made and immediate impact as a freshman in 2013, seeing playing time in nine games. Willis is a versatile player on the line, moving inside on passing downs in K-State's "speed-rush" package.
Starting opposite Willis will likely be either Senior Marquel Bryant or Sophomore Tanner Wood. Bryant started the year at DE in 2013, but was replaced after the second game and was then passed by Willis for the starting nod in 2014. Bryant has been the chief sub, however, and has appeared in 30 contests since taking his redshirt year in 2011. Bryant did come on strong towards the end of 2014, carding 12 of his 18 tackles and all of four tackles-for-loss in the final four games of the season. Wood played in every game in 2014, mostly on special teams, after taking a redshirt in 2013. Wood is best known for setting a Kansas high school state record, and the third best single-game rushing yardage total in national high school history, with a 659-yard, nine-touchdown effort in a 84-56 win while prepping at Conway Springs (KS).
The depth at defensive tackle goes three deep at both spots, not including talented incoming freshmen Bryce English and Trey Dishon. Junior Demonte Hood and Sophomore Matt Seiwert are likely to be the chief backups to Britz and Geary, with RS-Freshman C.J. Reese and JUCO transfer Craig Settles Jr. looking to find some time in the rotation as well.
At defensive end the options are more limited. After the loser of the Wood/Bryant battle, the race for back-up time will come down to JUCO transfer Aulelio Olomau and highly-touted freshmen Reggie Walker and Joshua Little. There are also three walk-ons who could potentially become the next Ryan Mueller or Ian Campbell. Also figuring in to the mix at DE on rush-downs are linebackers Elijah Lee and Charmeachealle Moore, who have both seen action at the position.
The unit that looks to rival the defensive secondary in terms of quality and depth may also be the least talked-about unit on the team. The D-line will need to be solid to protect a re-building LB corps, and must do so while replacing the unit's ever-running motor. But if there is a unit on the team built to lose a guy like Mueller, its this one. There is even the strong potential for this unit to be even better in 2015 than has been seen since the early 00's, with so much strength, experience, and depth returning to Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium.
Stay tuned for more preseason position previews!