It’s finally here. A very small oasis of football in the sea of spring, just enough to tide us over from the end of bowl season until the start of the next cycle of #reallivefootball in August.
The Kansas State Wildcats under Hall of Fame head coach Bill Snyder have traditionally started spring practice as late as possible, for a number of reasons. But that means we almost always get a nice late-April day to watch football in Manhattan.
But most Wildcat fans aren’t concerned about the weather this weekend (btw, rain has disappeared from the forecast for Saturday, so it should be a great day for football), rather they are excited, and some concerned, about what the football team will look like as it exits spring practice.
It’s always been difficult to judge things from a K-State spring game. One of the best examples is the 2010 spring game where Carson Coffman went 38-51 for 440 yards and seven touchdowns. His 2010 season wasn’t bad, but it was never near as promising as the spring game would have suggested (of course, we all remember how bad the defense turned out to be that year). Collin Klein finished the 2012 spring game going 47-56 for 475 yards and six touchdowns through the air and five carries for 49 yards on the ground; making Optimus Klein look more like a Texas Tech QB than the man who steamrolled his way to becoming a Heisman finalist.
But the spring game does give us a chance to see who is doing what across the roster, a chance for a young guy to make a name for himself - and this Saturday’s game will give us plenty of both as injuries to likely-starters will create lots of opportunities. It’s also a chance to create some hype, some energy in the fanbase to keep us excited for August - not that K-State fans aren’t already hyper-excited for what could be an exciting 2017 season.
So with that, lets take a look at what you should be watching for on offense as the Cats wrap up their spring practices this Saturday.
Really this is a battle for second-string. Senior Jesse Ertz is the starter, even though he’s not been able to practice all spring while still recovering from the procedure he underwent in January to fix the injury sustained last fall. Sophomore Alex Delton is the next man up, and reports are that he’s excelling as the spring QB1 after playing in some spot duty last season. Delton has wheels, that much is obvious, what will be important to watch for Delton is his command of the passing game and his ability to make D1 throws, even against the second-team defense. Hot on his heels is freshman Skylar Thompson, who came in to K-State last year loaded with hype and has lived up to it with a strong showing leading the scout team last season while he redshirtted. To watch for with Thompson will be his grasp of the offense, especially the read-option concepts featured heavily in the K-State gameplan. He’ll likely start for the second-team, so he’ll get a chance to prove his metal against the first-team defense, which even in a depleted spring should still be a formidable challenge. Bother of these guys are under a new professor for the spring, as the aforementioned Collin Klein is now the coach charged with molding these young men into D1 QB’s. And he should know a thing or two about that.
Barring injury, sophomore Alex Barnes is the starter. If he’s not, I think we all seriously need to question the sanity of Dana Dimel (not that we haven’t before...). Now, Barnes may not actually see a lot of action in the spring game because of this. He will start for the first-team, but expect him to split carries on that unit with junior Justin Silmon. This will partly to keep both men fresh — reducing load is always good, even at this time of the year, to keep injury potential down — but also because both men have earned the opportunity through practice and in-game performance, and K-State will likely employ a two-headed attack similar to years past like Hickson/Lawrence or Hall/Murphy.
What will be far more intriguing are the next set of guys. This RB corps is incredibly deep, so expect a lot of guys to see carries. Junior Dalvin Warmack is still fighting for a strong spot in the rotation, but he will be pushed by freshmen Tyler Burns and Mike McCoy. Burns turned heads in last year’s spring game with two touchdowns for the second-team unit, and will look to repeat that performance. McCoy was a late addition to the recruiting class last year, but features a skill-set similar to Barnes, and reports out of last fall indicate he performed at an extremely high-level on the scout team.
The other half of the backfield will be Winston Dimel at FB, and the only competition there will be on the second-team. Which includes, for now, freshman Mason Barta (there is some speculation he may still end up at LB like his dad).
There have been reports that both juniors Byron Pringle and Dominique Heath are nursing some injuries and may not play this Saturday. Regardless, like Ertz, they will be the starters going into the fall. They are a known commodity, and in this case that is not a bad thing — both were featured on the highlight reel from the Texas Bowl with huge touchdown plays. But this does open things up some for the guys behind them. sophomore Carlos Strickland will get his first action as a Wildcat after transferring from Cal last year, and he was highly recruited out of high school. Fellow sophomores Corey Sutton and Isaiah Zuber both showed big flashes of potential last season, with both getting real-time minutes against Big 12 competition. Junior Zach Reuter has had some big springs, but hasn’t shown much during the season. Sophomore Isaiah Harris and freshman D.J. Render will be the two looking to really cause a stir with their performance catching passes from Thompson on the second-team.
And yes, we have tight-ends. What to watch for here is if they actually get some targets. We know junior Dayton Valentine and sophomore Blaise Gammon can catch — we saw it last spring — but it will be interesting to see just how much Delton and Thompson look to their big guys with so many options on the outside.
Again, some injuries may hold a few guys out, but the starting line for next season is already set. Only one guy that started games last year graduated, and there was enough rotation at the other guard spot that there are five guys returning with Big 12 starting experience. What will be most interesting to see is how injury holes are filled and how well the second-team line plays against the first-team d-line — aka how deep is the two-deep on the line.
It’s the spring following a highly successful end to to the last season. And that was a highly youthful team too — much was made during and after the season of the fact that this was Bill Snyder’s youngest team, overall, ever — so that means a lot of guys who played a lot of minutes last year are back. When I mentioned K-State fans are hyper-excited it wasn’t hyperbole, the potential is there for the 2017 squad to be something truly special. And Saturday is likely to keep pouring gas on that fire.