It’s almost here, the 2018 Kansas State Wildcats football season opener is less than two weeks away. So it’s time to start previewing the Wildcats, position by position.
We’ll start our BotC previews with one of the position groups hit hardest by graduations the last two seasons: the defensive line.
The loss of Jordan Willis to graduation and the 2017 NFL Draft caused as much disruption to the defensive end spot as many predicted — which is actually fairly uncommon for a Bill Snyder-coached team. It didn’t help that returning starter, and 2016 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and All-American Reggie Walker was slowed by some sort of injury through much of 2017. He still managed to nab a Second Team spot on the 2017 All-Big 12 Team, but it was still a down year for the disruptive end. Tanner Wood spent most of the season opposite Walker, but he too has graduated creating another hole to fill.
Based on the Spring Game and what little observed practice that Bill Snyder has allowed, it appears that Kyle Ball is the favorite to start opposite Walker. The junior is no stranger to the field, and has seen action in each of the last two seasons as a third-down rush specialist and reserve end. But hot on his heels is redshirt-freshman Wyatt Hubert, who has gotten rave reviews out of practice after coming in to K-State last season with much anticipation. Even if Ball does start, expect to see Hubert in as a reserve end and on third down rush packages.
Sophomore Bronson Massie, junior Chase Johnston, and rs-freshman Anthony Payne should also push heavily for a mix of playing time, so don’t be surprised when six or even seven guys see significant action at DE. This may be one of the deepest groups of defensive ends that K-State has had, so hopefully we get to see them unleashed a bit more.
Will Geary has finally, somehow, exhausted his eligibility. It seems like he’s been a stalwart of the defensive line for a decade, and losing him is going to hurt, no matter who replaces him.
Trey Dishon returns to start for his third-straight season, and the junior will look to build on an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 2017 season. Filling in next to him will either be junior Joe Davies or sophomore Drew Wiley. Davies had the spot at the open practice, but all reports indicate it to be a very tight race, with junior-transfer Jordan Mittie also pushing for the spot. Wiley played in all 13 games in 2017 as a true freshman — not only rare for Snyder to play a freshman, but especially rare to have one play at a position where extra strength and maturity is needed. Mittie, son of K-State Women’s Basketball head coach Jeff Mittie, just transferred up from Texas State but is eligible immediately as a graduate transfer. Davies played in 12 games last season, and recorded his first-career sack in the regular-season finale against Iowa State.
Filling in the depth chart behind those four are sophomores Jordan Robertson and Tyquillo Moore, and redshirt-freshman Eli Huggins. Robertson is going in to his third season at K-State, but did not see any action as a rs-freshman lat year. Huggins will look to push for some playing time after coming of his redhsirt season. And Moore will likely ride the bench except in blowouts as he continues to learn the system after transferring from Butler CC in the offseason.
There is significant depth at both defensive line spots. End should be much less of a concern this season, assuming Walker’s injury is fully behind him, and the depth there should allow the staff to rotate enough to keep everyone fresh even late in the season. There’s still a big question mark at defensive tackle, and no matter how good those guys look in practice they still aren’t Will Geary. Unless your name is Alabama, you don’t easily replace a 3-time First Team all-conference player. If Geary’s replacement is solid, then the defensive line should be a strong unit that will help protect a young LB corps and allow the defensive backs some more freedom and time.