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Kansas State Football: Spring Depth Chart? - Defense

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NCAA Football: Texas Bowl-LSU at Kansas State Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I took a swing at coming up with a depth chart for the offense coming into the spring. This week, I’m going to try my hand at the defense. Remember, I’m going by the Kansas State official spring roster. If someone isn’t on that roster, he also isn’t on this depth chart.

While the offense was fairly cut and dry, the defense is tough. The first matter of business is figuring out what alignment to go with. I’ll start off with a 3-3-5, but I’m going to go ahead and give you a nickel position as well. Last year mainly saw a 3-2-6, with the Sauce Boss playing a hybrid linebacker/safety role. With Duke back in the mix, I think you’ll see more of a traditional 3-3-5, but against some teams, it may be better start, and stay with the 3-2-6 and move Duke around to different spots on the field. Flexibility is good, and this should be a flexible defense in 2023.

Spring Depth Chart

Defensive End

  1. Felix Anudike-Uzomah - Jr. - 6’4”, 255
  2. Cody Stufflebean - So. - 6’4”, 250

The King himself is a lock, but it will be interesting to see how things develop behind him. Stufflebean has the talent, but sat out all of last season after moving over from tight end to start his K-State career.

Defensive Tackle

  1. Eli Huggins - Sr. - 6’4”, 297
  2. Jaylen Pickle Sr. - 6’5”, 310

This one is tough. Huggins is the starter, but Pickle will try and fill the Timmy Horne role of immovable object in the run game. They’ll both see substantial playing time.

Defensive End

  1. Nate Matlack - So - 6’5”, 240
  2. Ozzie Hoffler - R-Fr - 6’2”, 220

Spencer Trussell moving on makes this an interesting spot to watch in the spring. I like Hoffler as a recruit, and think he brings a change of pace to the defensive front. This is a shot in the dark. At the same time, if Matlack went down with injury, you most likely end up with Stufflebean as the starter, and Ozzie still as a change of pace guy.

Middle Linebacker

  1. Daniel Green - Sr. - 6’3”, 240
  2. Gaven Haselhorst - R-Fr. - 6’0”, 225

I’ve got Haselhorst on the board for now. I loved him as a recruit. He hits like a dump truck. The backup spot probably goes to the loser (that sounds harsh...maybe...not winner) of the next linebacker spot.

Weak Side Linebacker

  1. Will Honas - Sr. - 6’2”, 230
  2. Branden Jennings - So - 6’3”, 230

This is going to be one of the more interesting battles, and it probably won’t be decided until late in fall camp. Honas, the Nebraska transfer, has a world of experience and was honorable mention All-Big 10 last season. He left Nebraska in search of a bowl game, and should find one at K-State. Jennings has a world of talent, but doesn’t have the experience of Honas. I expect both to play significant snaps this year, possibly in a 3-man linebacker rotation with Green.

Strong Side Linebacker/EDGE

  1. Khalid Duke - Jr. - 6’4”, 240
  2. Krew Jackson - R. Fr. - 6’5”, 205

I’m giving you two totally different players at this position. We all know Duke is a stud, and I think you’ll see him moved around a good bit this year. Jackson is a bit of a wildcard. He’s skinny, but in theory, perfect for the traditional SAM role. He’s got speed to burn, and can help in coverage or in the pass rush.

*Nickel

  1. Cincere Mason - Sr. - 6’0”, 215

Mason is similar in skill set to Reggie Stubblefield. He can line up and cover a slot receiver, give a tight end a difficult time, and blitz off the edge. If K-State plays six defensive backs, expect to see Mason on the field.

Cornerback

  1. Ekow Boye-Doe - Sr. - 6’0”, 170
  2. Josh Hayes - Sr. - 6’0”, 190

Boye-Doe used the weird Covid season to cement his spot in the starting lineup. He’s considered the lock down corner of the defense. Hayes is a graduate transfer by way for North Dakota State and UVA. He’s played a ton of football and should be the 3rd corner in the rotation.

Cornerback

  1. Julius Brents - Sr. - 6’4”, 200
  2. Omar Daniels - R Fr. - 6’0”, 180

Brents is a massive corner and will move around to cover any jump ball receiver K-State might run into. He’s fine covering smaller receivers as well, but having a guy like Brents at corner can help take away a physical receiver that eats up back shoulder throws. The coaching staff needs to develop a young guy at corner, and Daniels fits the bill. He’s talented, played a little last year, and should find some burn as the 4th corner if he has a good camp.

Free Safety

  1. Kobe Savage - Jr. - 5’11”, 200
  2. Marvin Martin - So. - 6’0”, 190

Savage was a big JuCo pick up in this recruiting class. I think he’ll have the slight edge over Martin physically, but it will be interesting to see of Martin’s experience in the system evens that out a bit. I’ll take Savage as the starter, but he could potentially play elsewhere if Martin ends up winning the job.

Jack Safety

  1. Shawn Robinson - Sr. - 6’1”, 230
  2. Cincere Mason - Sr. - 6’0”, 215

Robinson was a nice snag out of the portal. The Jack position requires a guy capable of sitting in the middle of the field, reading the quarterback and receivers and then acting decisively. Sounds like a job for a former Big12 starting quarterback heading into his 6th year of college. Mason played Jack some last year, and is a flexible piece that can plug a bunch of holes. He’ll be important for this defense.

Strong Safety

  1. TJ Smith - So. - 5’10”, 195
  2. Hunter Henry - Jr. - 6’1”, 195

Smith found his groove last year when he was moved from Jack safety to Strong safety. He’s able to play more instinctively, help out in the run game, and doesn’t have to make as many reads. That’s great for a guy that hits like Smith. You want him flying around making plays. I slotted Henry into the back-up spot, but it could go either way. The former Rice transfer should be ready to contribute somewhere on the depth chart this season.

Overall

I want to repeat that this is my somewhat educated guess. I’m sure a few of these will end up being wrong. I like what the coaching staff has done to rebuild the back end of the secondary this offseason. If Savage and Robinson can figure out the system, I don’t anticipate much of a drop off from last year, even after losing several key pieces.

The cornerbacks are elite. Brents and Boye-Doe might be the best pairing in the Big 12, and adding an experienced guy like Josh Hayes as the 3rd corner was crucial. Depth is a little questionable though. Really need the top line guys to stay healthy.

The defensive line is stout, and has some depth at defensive end. The 2020 recruiting class of Matlack, Stufflebean, and King Felix has been huge for the defensive end position. All three should be ready to go this season. The defensive tackle spot is in good shape with Huggins and Pickle. Hentz has some experience as well, and will be the third guy. You usually want to run four, if not five at that spot, but playing a 3-man front mitigates the necessity for depth at defensive tackle. I would like to see either Damian Ilalio or Brayden Wood take control of the 4th spot in the rotation or push Hentz for the 3rd spot.