No offense achieves greatness without an excellent offensive line. K-State’s 2017 offense features skill-position talent aplenty, but it’s the returning experience and talent up front that will power the attack.
In 2017, K-State featured four new starters and low expectations up front. Coach Charlie Dickey’s unit exceeded expectations, powering a top-25 rushing attack with a top-five Rushing Success Rate. Pass protection was less auspicious, with an Adjusted Sack Rate rating of 96th nationally.
Until recently, K-State expected to return four starters from last year’s unit, which fueled expectations for a dominant rushing attack and improved pass protection. But center Reid Najvar (senior, Spring, Tex.) will miss the season with concussion issues, leaving a question mark in the middle.
Junior Dalton Risner (Wiggins, Colo.) anchors K-State’s line at right tackle. Risner exemplifies the versatility Dickey prefers in linemen, starting at center as a true freshman in 2015 before moving outside last year. Risner was a first-team all-Big 12 player in 2016 and is garnering mention on NFL draft boards for 2018.
At left tackle, Scott Frantz (Lawrence, Kan.) returns after starting all 13 games last season as a redshirt freshman. Frantz will protect quarterback Jesse Ertz’s blind side and, with expected improvement over 2016, will likely attract significant attention for all-conference honors.
Three different players started at left guard last year for K-State, which was the only rotation on the offensive line. We should be so lucky for that to continue this year.
Sophomore Tyler Mitchell (Matthews, Ala.) started the final four games last year, including the bowl game against Texas A&M. Mitchell also started against Stanford and Florida Atlantic to begin the year before losing his starting position. Returning junior Abdul Beecham (Judson, Tex.) started five games in the middle of last season’s conference slate. According to JT from fan appreciation day, Beecham may have the upper hand. Regardless, K-State returns two players with starting experience at LG, though I’m sure Dickey hopes one of them will step up and seize the job this season.
Terrale Johnson started all 13 games at right guard last season, but was lost to graduation. Junior college transfer Breontae Matthews (Washington, D.C.) redshirted last year but may well step into Johnson’s place in 2017. Matthews started every game for Fullerton College in 2014 and 2015 and earned a number of community college honors. At 6’5” and 321 lbs., he brings ideal size to the table. Assuming it’s good size and he’s ready for this level, he and Risner could continue the lethal zone blocking on the right side.
Sophomore Adam Holtorf (Seward, Neb.) presumptively steps into Najvar’s spot at center. In his third year with the program, he has worked at center from the beginning and should be ready to make the attendant line calls. Holtorf saw action in late in the FAU and TCU games last season.
Filling Out the Depth Chart
While K-State has significant starting experience at three positions, and among four different linemen, there is little game experience behind them. Last season’s stability at four positions and a schedule lacking in garbage time limited reps for those further down the depth chart.
Based on prior game action, juniors Bryce Fitzner (Poway, Calif.) and Alec Ruth (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) are closest to the mix for starting positions. Fitzner played in eight games last year, though some of that was in field-goal protection. Ruth played against FAU and KU after seeing no game action in 2015. Sophomore Evan Curl (Flower Mound, Texas) played against FAU last year. Transfer sophomore Nick Kaltmayer (Edwardsville, Ill.) redshirted last year but played in six games for Western Illinois in 2015.
True freshman almost never see game action for K-State, which is a testament to Snyder and Dickey’s program management. Other than surefire NFL prospects, 18-year-old freshman are rarely physically ready to take on power-conference defensive lines. That said, K-State has a trio of true freshman with impressive size. Keep an eye on the field late in expected early blowouts in the unlikely event these guys see the field.
All three newcomers were top-10 recruits in Kansas last year. Josh Rivas (Hutchinson, Kan.) is the biggest of a big group at 6’5” and 356 lbs. He was the third-rated recruit in Kansas and a top-50 national guard. Rivas chose K-State over offers from KU, Mizzou, Memphis, Purdue and Virginia Tech, and is the most likely prospect to see the field this year, possibly competing with Matthews for playing time at right guard.
Ben Adler (Wichita, Kan.) a 6’4”, 314 lb. product of Trinity Academy was a top-50 guard and the fourth-rated Kansas recruit. Adler played in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl last year. Harrison Creed (Ulysses, Kan.) is a 6’4”, 317 lb. who was selected to play in the Blue-Gray All-American Bowl after his senior season. He was a top-10 recruit in Kansas.