Same story, different verse. The young men manning the offensive line for the 2015 Kansas State Wildcats will look very familiar to Wildcat fans and opposing defensive lines. Four of five starters return, but the 4-year starting center, BJ Finney, who was 2014 Co-Offensive Lineman and First Team All-Big 12, as well as the unquestioned leader of the line, is gone. So, the big question is, is his replacement the real deal.
Wildcats can take a huge sigh of relief seeing Preseason All-Big 12 tackle Sr Cody Whitehair trotting out to the left side of the line. Whitehair has started each of the last three seasons; the first two at guard and right tackle, while moving outside of his natural position to man the all important left tackle spot last year. Inside of him is Sr Boston Stiverson, who became a full-time starter in 2014 after seeing game action in his first two seasons between battling injuries. From the other end, Sr Matt Kleinsorge returns at right tackle, but often left Wildcats wanting more in 2014. Same goes for Sr Luke Hayes, who started the final 12 games after coming off the bench in the first game of the season. Both Kleinsorge and Stoverson are coming off major injuries to end their 2014 campaigns, and reports out of camp were that both were still fighting minor injury bugs.
The big question is who will be manning BJ Finney's big spot sandwiched between the four Kansas boys. It appears that BJ's heir apparent is living up to the hype, as RSFr Dalton Risner is expected to start game one. Risner was the sixth-best center in the nation (according to Rivals) coming out of high school, and his redshirt year was apparently spent learning everything possible from the now-Pittsburgh Steeler.
The two-deep along the offensive line looks loaded with several guys who have been in the program for several years. Jr JUCO-transfer Terrale Johnson, originally of Manhattan, is the backup LG, and may see playing time early in the season if Stiverson is still recovering from nagging injuries. Same goes for Sr Aaron Bennett, the main backup at RT. Jr Will Ash, Sr Reed Bergstrom, and RSFr Bryce Fitzner are the other listed backups, but So Reid Najvar saw game action against UCLA in the Alamo Bowl when Kleinsorge went down and Finney moved out to RT. There is also a load of big underclassmen that will hopefully be watching these guys and getting ready for their appearances next year.
While returning four of five is usually a pretty good deal for an offensive line, these guys will be charged with blocking for a run-first scheme in 2015 instead of the pass-heavy scheme employed in 2014. The road-grading ability of the 2014 line seemed lacking at times, most apparent during the Wildcats 2014 win in Morgantown when the Cats couldn't even manage positive rushing yards against a somewhat spotty Mountaineer defense. Most expect Risner to come in and at least adequately fill BJ's big shoes his first season starting, but many will also be keeping a close eye of the right side of the line to see what improvements have been made during the off-season.