The K-State Spring Game is officially upon us. Tomorrow afternoon our boys in purple will square off against our boys in white in a glorified practice. This will be our only look at the Wildcats before Fan Appreciation Day in August, and the only look at what these guy may be capable of before the 2016 season opener at Stanford.
There is also the hope that the Spring Game will provide us some answers to our burning questions, like "Who will be the starting QB?" And there is always the chance that a young man will come out of nowhere to earn a spot in the rotation with a strong showing. And we also get to glimpse the future of K-State football, as more of the young men in the last few recruiting classes will see more playing time.
So with that in mind, lets break down some of the things we'll be looking for during the K-State Spring Game.
Things To Watch
It all starts up front, and Coach Dickey is trying to figure out how to fill four spots on the offensive line. And there's as least one giant pair of shoes to fill, as starting LT Cody Whitehair is gone to the NFL, and likely to be a first or early-second round selection.
Dalton Risner will be back, but according to reports, it's an open battle for all five spots and we could see Risner line up at a spot other than center if the need is there. Also missing from this battle is a least one JUCO guy who could potentially vie for a spot in fall practice. Look for Scott Frantz and Reid Najvar (both singled out by Coach Snyder for their efforts), as well as Terrale Johnson and Will Ash, who both saw playing time during the 2015 campaign. However, it wouldn't be a surprise to see 8-10 different guys line up wearing the purple jersey as part of the 1st-team unit on offense.
Unless you've been living under a boulder, you've seen and heard all you needed about the K-State QB battle. Jesse Ertz and Alex Delton are both healthy after very early exits to 2015, and by all accounts are impressing in spring practices. Joe Hubener remains in the race because HoFHC Bill Snyder loves competition and rewards consistency and seniority. There has been basically no news about early-enrollee freshman Skylar Thompson out of spring drills, so this may be our only chance to see what he can do until this time next year.
3. Wide Receivers
Those QB's need someone to throw to, and last season there was a complete lack of any sort of play-maker in the receiving corps. Obviously we were all a bit spoiled by Tyler Lockett and his ankle-breaking moves, but it was still a down season by anyone's standards.
Byron Pringle will have all eyes on him as the early-enrollee JUCO transfer from Butler CC has everyone talking, from Coach Snyder saying he's catching on fast, to other players impressed by his abilities. This will also be a chance to see what was riding the pine this season, as Denzel Goolsby and Isaiah Zuber will be competing with returners Deante Burton and Dominique Heath for spots in the two-deep. True-freshman early-enrollee Corey Sutton will likely follow the same path as Thompson wearing the red jersey for 2016, but with things as wide open as they can be on the edge, he could make a name and earn some immediate playing time for himself with a strong showing.
4. Dante Barnett and the Secondary
He's Baaaaaaaack! The defensive players who've been allowed to be interviewed have been trying to play it cool, but it's obvious how excited these guys are to have their field general back for one more year. Reports are that he's back to his old self, flying around the field and making plays in the pass and run games. Pair him with Duke Shelley, and you've got a pair of highly athletic, fast, and smart guys who have terrorized Big 12 QBs and receivers. Donnie Starks also returns to man the "Cat" safety spot, and while no slouch, doesn't carry the same type of hype into the spring game.
The big question is who will be playing next to them. As the 2015 season wound down, we were fully expecting Dante to be back, but playing next to a familiar face in Kaleb Prewett. But Barnett's heir-apparent left the team before spring drills, so we are left to wonder who will step in and fill that spot. Competing in the spring will be some other familiar faces as Sean Newlan and Kendall Adams both spent significant time at safety in 2015.
The race to replace All-American Morgan Burns will be wide open. Assuming Starks stays in the nickle slot, there are three or four guys already on the roster that could earn the nod. Cre Moore probably has the inside track, but will have to overcome his issues that caused him to miss the end of the 2015 season. Jesse Mack also saw some time at corner in 2015, and RS Freshman Jonathan Durham and new-comer Jordan Noil should also have the potential to insert themselves into the discussion. Noil may be the darkhorse in the race, as the JCUO transfer was originally committed to Maryland our of HS before ending up a Appalachian State and the Hutch CC. He's got the talent, can he use it?
5. Running Backs
Last but certainly not least, who will be the starting running back will be an important battle. K-State hasn't seen a 1,000-yd rusher in two years, and the actual running backs haven't even been able to put that number up as a group. Charles Jones is the presumptive starter, but Justin Silmon has, according to reports, worked very hard during the off-season and spring drills to become a complete back (running and blocking) By all accounts, his missed assignments and lack of playbook knowledge were what kept him off the field in 2015, even after he appeared to be a better north-south runner than Charles Jones. And Dalvin Warmack will look to improve on his showing from the Liberty Bowl, when we finally got to see the kind of speed and elusiveness that we'd been hearing about for two years.
We could see running back-by-committee during the spring game, and even during the 2016 season. But it would be best for them, and the team, if one of them could stand out from the pack and make it his job.
HM: The Two-Deep
The spring game is really the only time, barring injury or stupidity, that we'll get to see the guys in the two- and three-deep, as well as the walk-ons and practice team guys, on the field. The defensive front 7 will be a good area to watch, as while we will only see one 2015 starter replaced (and yes, it is a big hole to fill), we'll get our first glimpse at the future of the K-State defense. Returning starter (and All-Universe family man) Charmeachealle Moore has mentioned several of his younger teammates at LB for their skills and athleticism, and is impressed and thankful for the amount of competition they provide.