The 2015 K-State O-line was populated a freshman center sandwiched by four returning senior starters. And of those four, one is now the starting LG for the Chicago Bears, and another is making a case as a backup for the Dallas Cowboys. That’s, uh, a lot to replace. And that five-some started nearly every game, and played the bulk of real-game offensive snaps, so that leaves up going in to 2016 with only one returning starter, and really the only one with significant playing time. Except, now the staff has thrown us a curveball...
The presumed starting center, the young man who finished last season as a Freshman All-American and will start the season on the Remington Award watch list (awarded to the best center in college football), is currently working at RT. Yes, Dalton Risner could very well go in to the 2016 out of the position he was recruited for, because noone else has been able to step up and take that spot.
Right now, the starters as they last appeared are:
- LT Scott Frantz, 6’5” 293lb RS-Freshman from Lawrence. Started the Spring Game at LT, will have big shoes to fill replacing Cody Whitehair.
- LG Bryce Fitzner, 6’7” 292lb Sophomore from Poway, CA. Fitzner is entering his third season as a Wildcat. Will Ash started in this spot during the Spring Game, so we have to assume there is still competition going on for this spot.
- C Reid Najvar, 6’4” 295lb Junior from Spring, TX. Reid has actually seen the field, although it has only been reserve action during blowouts, however always at center. Najvar started the Spring Game at center, but Risner did not play that game.
- RG Terrale Johnson, 6’1” 312lb Senior from Manhattan. Johnson actually made four starts in 2015 while subbing for injured players, and also came in for a special goal-line smashmouth package during at least a couple games. Johnson started at RG during the Spring Game, and made most of the 2015 starts at this position as well.
- RT Dalton Risner, 6’5” 300lb Sophomore from Wiggins, CO. Obviously his best position is center, so there has to be something crazy going on if he is needed to take the RT spot. Hopefully, someone else can step up (see Backups below) so Risner can move back to center.
If the above guard starters hold, then Will Ash will be the primary backup at both guard spots, and will come in at LG during blowouts. The Senior from Indianapolis has seen action in nearly every game the last three seasons, primarily in field goal protection, but has also played as a reserve during blowouts. Also look for Ajahne Brager to backup one of the guard spots as the Junior has seen action in reserve duty and field goal protection in the last two seasons.
The two big names who should be competing for the RT spot are Abudl Beecham and Breontae Matthews. While both are JUCO transfers, Beecham arrived for the spring semester and even started the Spring Game at RT. Matthews was more highly-rated by scouts, but didn’t arrive until the start of fall camp so is definitely behind on the learning/adjustment curve.
Some other names to watch out for as injury replacements and reserve-unit action: Adam Holtorf, who is currently Najvar’s backup at center; Tyler Mitchell, who has been singled out for his improvement and growth; Alex Ruth and Evan Curl should help round out the rotation.
The QB and RB battles could be moot if this unit doesn’t gel. There are definitely going to be growing pains from this unit, but it can only help if Risner can move back to his “line general” position at center. Najvar is no slouch, and obviously has put in the work required and gained the confidence of Coach Dickey, but it is concerning to overall line depth because the coaches decided it was better to have the backup center play than whoever else could play at the RT spot. Regardless of how they line up, this unit will be key to how well the offense plays in 2016. As much as the defense has a rock-solid foundation to build on with it’s line, the foundation of the offense is still curing. Let’s hope it’s ready in time for September 2nd.