Last winter, D.J. Reed did what he needed to do, but that decision left K-State fans wondering if the secondary could survive his departure. Of course, Reed’s absence isn’t the only big change facing the Wildcats’ final line of defense, and an arguably bigger change may in fact pay big dividends.
That change is the retirement of defensive coordinator/secondary coach Tom Hayes, who evangelized a form of pass defense designed to prevent big plays rather than prevent, well, all of them. Obviously that latter goal is nigh unattainable, but the precepts behind Hayes’s coaching have long been a bit of a sore subject among some Wildcat observers.
The question, then, is whether that’s going to change under newly hired secondary coach Brian Norwood, late of Tulsa and Baylor. One change that’s likely: although you’ll still see defensive backs giving a ton of cushion at the snap, you’ll likely see them up on the line of scrimmage far more often than you did under Hayes. Norwood’s a strong believer in disguising coverage.
Norwood’s arsenal to start the season consists of three returning starters in cornerback Duke Shelley and safeties Kendall Adams and Denzel Goolsby. The former two are team captains, while the latter is the reigning Cactus Bowl defensive MVP. They’re all solid and talented pieces to work with, which leaves Norwood only two major question marks: the other corner, and the nickel.
It’s always hard to read the tea leaves, but if the spring game and open fall practice are any indication Reed’s replacement opposite Shelley will be A.J. Parker, who isn’t a stranger to starting. Parker started two games each last season at corner and nickel as a redshirt freshman, and saw a ton of action in reserve.
Sophomore Walter Neil, Jr. appears to have the edge at nickel. Neil saw a good deal of action last year on special teams, and he played well as the starter at safety for the White team during the spring game.
So the starting five appear to be reasonably sorted and mostly solid. That leaves depth as the question, and it’s a big one. Seniors Eli Walker and Colby Moore return with a good deal of in-game experience, although Walker missed the spring game. Junior Johnathan Durham also returns with a ton of action under his belt, and junior JUCO transfers Kevion McGee, Daron Bowles, and Darreyl Patterson figure to get into the mix as well. Indeed, any of these guys could find themselves thrust into a starting role; all have either talent or proven ability, if not both.
Sophomore Brock Monty is also available, having done yeoman work last season. The rest of the crew is probably destined to watch from the sidelines, as K-State has no fewer than seven freshman (or redshirt freshman) defensive backs on the roster. Of those, we haven’t seen much except from Derek Bowman, E.J. Thomas, and redshirt sophomore Jahron McPherson, all of whom saw action in the spring game.
Last season, K-State’s secondary was abysmal even with Reed’s presence. Injuries played some role in that, but giving up 309 yards a game isn’t a good look no matter what. Another year of experience can’t hurt, and it will be interesting to