It was gorgeous day in Manhattan, KS for the annual culmination of spring practice. And on the field at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium, the quarterback battle took center stage, as the three candidates for the spot were given the green-light and as a group went 46-64 for 582 yards and 3 TDs. Lots of other things happened too, but you can get recaps all over the K-State beat, so let's jump right to the breakdown of what we saw this afternoon in the Little Apple.
The stat sheet only tells part of the story for today's spring game. Joe Hubener looked great on paper, leading the trio of potential QBs with a combined 21-25 for 319 yards and two TDs. But the senior got 73 yards on a short throw to Byron Pringle that Pringle took to the house, and was bailed out on a brilliant catch for a TD by freshman Corey Sutton that Sutton caught through pass-interference. There were also some vestiges of the Bazooka Joe that caused much consternation last season, namely throwing deep fades to a double-covered Deante Burton, and telegraphing plays into near-interceptions.
Alex Delton showed his wheels, and flashed an ability to escape from a collapsing pocket and find a check-down receiver. His passing game needs polish, but the RS freshman obviously knows the playbook well and looked solid leading the white squad against the first-team defense for all of the first quarter. He even threw to TE (*gasp*) Blaise Gammon more than once (WHAT?!). Late in the game he played for the white squad, then turned around and immediately played for the purple, the only one of the group to flip so quickly. He's still got a ways to go, but the tools are all there to have a couple Ell Roberson-like seasons in him.
Jesse Ertz also has some wheels, and took a read-option play around the edge for a 45 yard gain in the middle of the 4th quarter (on a play that Duke Shelley rocketed across the field to assist in getting Ertz out of bounds...seriously, I don't think Lockett would have been able to out-run Duke there). Ertz, named one of the 2016 team captains, started the game for the purple squad, and drove them right down the field on the first possession for a touchdown pass that was high along the back line, but in a place that his receiver, Zach Reuter, was able to make a play and stay in bounds (man, it is sure nice to have some guys who can catch...but more on that later).
If the decision had to be made today who the starting QB would be, Jesse Ertz probably gets the nod. Hubener looked good without pressure, but games aren't played with those "two-hand touch" rules for QBs. This offense will run well with either Ertz or Delton starting, but will have issues if Hubener has to be "the guy" again.
Charles Jones started for the purple and on his first couple hand-offs looked like the Charles Jones of old as he danced east and west and looked indecisive. He turned it around, and ended up with 12 carries for 36 yards and a TD, all for the purple squad.
Justin Silmon had a more impressive showing on the afternoon while totaling 87 yards on 15 carries, including one 36-yard run down the sideline in the 4th quarter, and two touchdowns. He showed up a more complete back than we saw in 2015, making the correct plays in pass protection and in read-option plays. Silmon was the only one of the three main running backs to not catch a pass on the afternoon, but his skill-set is more geared to power running.
Dalvin Warmack nearly broke out for a huge TD run on his first hand-off, but was caught at the last moment by Brogan Barry for a gain of only 14 yards. Warmack ended with only 5 total carries for 28 yards, but also snagged two passes, including one on a broken play where Delton threw a drop pass over several lineman to Warmack for a short gain.
Tyler Burns and Terrance Richards were the only other backs with carries, both for the white squad. Burns snagged two TD's with his eight carries, one in the 2nd quarter, the other late in the 4th.
Any one of the big three could be the feature-back in 2016, but if today was any indication, expect to see a lot of all three early in the season as that race will continue on in to the fall.
If Byron Pringle keeps getting better...look out, he'll be All-Big 12 at the end of the year. Yes, it's a spring game, but he caught nine passes for 163 yards, and generally looked like a game-changer while on the field. He's got size and speed, and caught nearly everything that came his way that was catch-able. Even a jarring mid-field collision (caused by a Hubener over-throw that Pringle still nearly made a great play on) didn't keep him down long, and he returned to make a couple more catches on the day.
Dominique Heath, Burton, and Reuter were the only other guys in the rotation for the purple. Heath caught 5 passes for 55 yards, but most came on one 32-yard reception. Burton dropped the first pass he saw, a decent throw from Delton that hit Burton right in the hands, but finished the day with four catches for 36 yards. Reuter had his TD catch, but only two others beyond that for 23 total yards. The stats reflect the show on the field, as it was a rather pedestrian day in purple for every but Pringle.
Corey Sutton, only months removed from high school, stole the show for the white, and that was among several highlight plays from the white-squad receivers, even though getting stuck running against Shelley most of the afternoon. Sutton caught a nifty behind-the-defenders-head pass from Hubener for a TD late for one of his three grabs for 85 yards (it sure seemed like more than that in person). Isaiah Zuber nearly had a circus catch on the sideline early, and Denzel Goolsby actually did have one a bit later (that may not have held up under review). TE Blaise Gammon even caught three passes during the game. There is a lot of young talent at receiver, just need them to keep progressing during the off-season.
We were missing some big names, both already on campus and at least one we're waiting on to arrive. Dalton Risner, named one of the 2016 team captains, did not play, and Reid Najvar took his place at center. The starting line went (from left to right): Scott Frantz, Will Ash, Najvar, Teralle Johnson, Abdul Beecham. We are still waiting on Breontae Matthews to arrive from JUCO, but expect him to compete for one of the tackle spots. If he lives up to billing, we'll likely be looking at Frantz/Johnson/Risner/Beecham/Matthews across the line to start 2016. Neither the first or second team lines were impressive, but some of the numbers, especially sacks, are inflated by the touch rule for QBs.
The starting defense looks like it has some really good pieces, and it sure was nice seeing Dante Barnett back. Barnett, one of the 2016 team captains, played well, if quietly, in the first half, but did not play the whole game likely to keep him from getting hurt as well as give younger guys some reps. Duke Shelley has the speed to recover from the rare mistakes he makes, and will push for post-season awards if he keeps up his progression. RS freshman Jonathan Durham got the start opposite Shelley, and has some decent speed but will likely have trouble with starting-level Big 12 receivers if he ends up keeping that job. Senior Donnie Starks did not play, but he is the likely favorite to man that spot come fall.
The LB duo of Charmeachealle Moore and Elijah Lee will be more than serviceable in Big 12 play. Will Davis is still suspect against the pass, and had trouble covering the second-team TEs. Sam Sizelove also saw some time with the first-team LBs.
Will Geary returned after missing the bowl game, and next to him in the interior of the D-line was Trey Dishon. Matt Seiwert did not play, and Craig Settles, Jr., played only with the white team, and those are the only two other names that have been mentioned out of spring practice in the interior. Losing both Demonte Hood and Bryce English was a big blow to the depth in the interior of the d-line.
Jordan Willis, one of the 2016 team captains, lined up at DE with Davis Clark, a relative unknown up to this point who notched two sacks on the afternoon. Tanner Wood did not play, but will be expected to be in the rotation to start the season, and Aulelio Olomua played well for the white squad. Reggie Walker also some some action with the purple squad, and notched a sack while coming in for the 3rd-down rush package.
The QB and RB battle will keep strong, likely up to the week before the Stanford game. Pringle is a breath of fresh air at WR, and the youth movement there could pay big dividends if development continues. Same goes for the defense, as there is potential there for the defense to return to being a high quality unit with a solid influx of young talent coupled with veteran experience. There are also several young men that are not yet on campus that will be expected to at least make competition more interesting for several spots across the board.
Overall, there is a lot to be optimistic about, but still many very critical questions to be answered before the 2016 season begins.