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Kansas State Football: 2021 Defensive Line Preview

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The Wildcats are missing three starters from last year, but can they avoid missing a beat?

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

While we often break down the tackles and ends separately, we’ll preview them together this year to save some time.

Defensive Ends

It’s pretty rare at a school like Kansas State when you can lose a player early to the NFL (which is rare enough by itself), and then not be overly concerned about his replacement at the position. And it’s not like losing Wyatt Hubert isn’t a blow to the defense, losing a guy that talented is never “easy” unless your name is Alabama, but the depth at defensive end is such that the drop off shouldn’t be hugely noticeable.

That, and the return of Khalid Duke, who burst on to the scene in 2019 as a true freshman at the “rush” end spot, and hasn’t let up. Duke is good at getting behind the the offensive tackles and using his speed to cause disruptions in the backfield.

He’ll be joined by the duo of Felix Anudike and Bronson “Boom” Massie. Massie has been in Manhattan for a while now, and elected to use his free COVID year to return to K-State for one more chance to impress NFL scouts. Anudike, a true sophomore, played in five games last season, and carded a sack against KU. Anudike is listed as the starter on the depth chart, but expect heavy rotation at that end spot.

There’s also Kirmari Ganious, who played in all 10 games last season, and was a “rush tackle” in pass situations. The former JUCO transfer is a senior but could opt to return next year if desired. And Spencer Trussell is a junior that action in seven games last year as part of the end rotation. And that rotation is something the K-State staff will continue to utilize this season.

There is also a group of young guns waiting for their shot. Ozzie Hoffler, a true freshman, and Nate Matlack and Cody Stufflebean, both redshirt freshmen, will look to break into the rotation this season before looking to become “the guys” in the next few years.

Defensive Tackle

The middle of the defensive line also saw a big loss this offeseason with the graduation of Drew Wiley, a rare big man who never took a redshirt and played all of his four seasons at K-State. However, Eli Huggins elected to return as a super-senior, and the Georgia native was joined by Charlotte transfer Timmy Horne, who will not only fill Wiley’s big shoes, but has endeared himself to his team so much that he was named a captain for the season before even playing a down for the Wildcats.

There’s also Jaylen Pickle, and the big southwest-Kansan has saw lots of action last season in the rotation, and was expected to slide into Wiley’s starting spot before Horne burst on to the scene. And Robert Hentz, who arrived last year after a stint in JUCO, also saw heavy action in the rotation last year. Just like the ends, the coaching staff likes to rotate the tackles to keep guys fresh, so expect to see Pickle and Hentz plenty.

Behind the main rotation, the guys to watch for are Cartez Crook-Jones, who has beefed up and moved inside after starting his career at end, and Tyrone Taleni, the Samoan who has a high upside, but lacks overall football experience. Then there’s the two true freshmen brought in with the 2020 class, Brayden Wood and Damien Ilalio. Wood may be ready to go this season after graduating high school early and arriving in time for the spring semester. Ilalio didn’t have far to go to arrive at K-State, but the Manhattan native may need a bit more time to be ready for D1 football.

Overall

The defensive line lost two key starters from the 2020 group, but it’s entirely possible that this unit, nearly as deep as the offensive line, may go into 2021 without so much as skipping a beat. That’s a bold statement, but this unit looks to be prepared for the challenge.

Having quality depth sure makes transitions easier.