We’re still counting down the days to the start of the 2017 football season, and we’re down to the trenches in our positional previews after covering Special Teams (00), Defensive Backs (Jon), and Linebackers (00 again). So, as is logical, today’s preview is over the defensive line.
And really, the story of the 2017 K-State defensive line starts with what the unit lost. The 2016 Wildcats were led by the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Jordan Willis. But he’s now busy tearing it up with the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL.
But, while that is a huge loss, it’s really the only loss on a unit that forced 27 sacks (led by Willis’ 11.5), and generally made life very difficult for opposing quarterbacks. But it wasn’t just the signal callers getting pressure, opposing running backs also had to run into the very sharp teeth of the Wildcat defense, as the defense overall only allowed 3.7 yards/rush and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
But enough about 2016, who are we looking at for the 2017 season.
The Big Big Big news out of fall practice was the return of Will Geary to the Wildcat football team. Geary took the spring off from football for undisclosed personal reasons, but returned to full force after the summer. And big isn’t an understatement — Geary is a returning two-time First Team All-Big 12 defensive tackle and is the anchor of the Wildcat defensive line.
Beside him at tackle is Trey Dishon. The sophomore had a stellar freshman campaign on his way to Second Team Big 12 All-Freshman Team honors from Athlon sports. Dishon is a bigger version of Geary — a weight-room monster (Dishon was a power-lifting champ in highs school) and a dude that takes up a lot of space in the interior of the line to let the ends and linebackers to their work. It’s not very glorious, but Dishon and Geary are a killer tandem in the middle.
Outside, one end spot is locked up tight. Reggie Walker returns after a huge season as a freshman that saw him notch 6.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss on the way to a host of post-season accolades including Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Walker with get his chance to step out of Willis’s large shadow and be “the guy” at defensive end.
The spot vacated by Willis is the big issue. Senior Tanner Wood is the likely starter there after starting the 2017 Spring Game and playing rotationally the last several seasons. Also to watch for are Bronson Massie, who saw time with the purple squad at end in the Spring Game.
The Wildcats also employ a “rush” package on the line, so along with Walker and whoever his mirror is, there will be opportunity for other defensive ends to get in on the action. Kyle Ball made a name for himself with two sacks in that package, and look for incoming freshmen Wyatt Hubert, who played some for the purple squad in the spring game, and Anthony Payne to get reps there if they don’t end up redshirtting.
The chief backup for Geary and Dishon is likely Ray Price, who started alongside Dishon for the purple team with the absence of Geary. After that is a mixed bag, with a host of younger talent that hasn’t seen the field.
At end, there’s a big logjam. Besides all those mentioned above, C.J. Reese and Davis Clark have both seen action in games, so there’s a lot of competition at defensive end. And that doesn’t include any young linebackers that may get talked into playing at rush end in the “rush” package. New ends coach Jon Fabris has a lot of tools at his disposal, we’ll just have to wait and see how he deploys his pieces.
The biggest thing the 2017 line unit needs to do is be solid upfront early, so that the really new linebacker unit behind them gets plenty of time to learn and adjust so that come Big 12 play they aren’t a liability.
It’s not going to be an easy task, losing Jordan Willis stings. If you’re name isn’t “Alabama” you don’t just lose an All-American and keep trucking without some kind of let down. But getting Will Geary back softens that blow, and returning three of the four full-time starters from 2016 is a big win.
There’s a lot of talent ready to replace our last star, hoping that they become the next star of the Wildcat defense.