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K-State Spring Game: What We Learned - Defense

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The starters look solid, but depth may be a concern.

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

It was cold and wet, and not everyone played, and it was still just a glorified practice. But we still learned a few things from the Spring Game, got a few rare insights into the Kansas State Wildcats football program, and saw a few things that we won’t normally see in a regular game.

We started with the offense, and now we’re hitting the defense and special teams. For clarification, the Purple offense and the White defense were the first-team units, while the White offense and Purple defense were the second-team units.

What We Learned

Defensive Line

Running mostly base defenses really doesn’t lend itself to much excitement from the defensive side of the ball, but we did pick up a few things based on who played where. Reggie Walker appeared in his regular spot to anchor one side of the defensive line for the Purple joined by Trey Dishon on the inside.

With the graduations of Tanner Wood and Davis Clark, as well as the departure of C.J. Reese to UTEP, there is a hole on the end opposite Walker. Kyle Ball got the starting nod for the White, and picked up one of the two sacks for the unit. Wyatt Hubert played some snaps, as did Chase Johnston. Bronson Massie appears stuck down a bit on the depth chart, but started at end for the Purple squad, recording a sack, with Johnston, who has been a bit of a journeyman at K-State, at the other end. Anthony Payne and Osvelt Joseph also played some snaps for the Purple, with Payne picking up a sack, and Joseph carding a half-sack; and Ian Nordel and Jacob Jenkins, redshirt-freshman walk-ons, rounding out the participation report for the White team.

At tackle, sophomore Drew Wiley got the unenviable spot of trying to fill the gigantic hole left after Will Geary’s graduation. Wiley split time with junior Joe Davies as the only two tackles to play alongside Dishon for the White defense. Wiley also got the start on the Purple defense with sophomore Jordan Robertson. Eli Huggins and Logan Stoddard did not play, so Trey Dishon picked up a few snaps for the Purple defense. Hopefully one of the three tackles from the 2018 recruiting class will be able to step in a provide some immediate depth.

Linebackers

It seemed rather clear who would be starting at linebacker even before the spring game, and those thoughts were justified when Elijah Sullivan and Da’Quan Patton lined up for the first snap with the White defense. The Wildcats still list a base 4-3, and Eric Gallon II filled the third LB spot when the defense wasn’t in their more common 4-2-5 alignment. Ian Rudzik was the only other LB to see action for the White defense, playing a few snaps after Patton left with a minor injury. Senior Sam Sizelove, who has been expected to push for a starting role, was the only LB who did not see any game action. Over for the Purple defense, Blake Richmeier, Gallon, and the long-awaited Daniel Green filled the starting roles. Justin Hughes and Parker O’Neal also got snaps on the Purple unit.

The two-deep looks solid at LB, though the addition of Rashaan York will be appreciated. But based on snaps played, it appears Sullivan and Patton have a firm hold on the top two spots.

Defensive Backs

Duke Shelley and AJ Parker were the only two expected starters who played during the spring game. Kendall Adams is still recovering from his season-ending injury, and Denzel Goolsby, fresh of his Cactus Bowl Defensive MVP award, and Eli Walker did not play any snaps. That left Brock Monty and Walter Neil Jr. back at safety for the White defense, and the pair played generally well. Ross Elder and Kevion McGee started outside for the Purple defense, with Colby Moore and Wayne Jones, who recorded the game’s only interception, back at safety. Freshmen EJ Thomas and Derek Bowman (walk-on) and junior Daron Bowles also saw action for the Purple defense.

(Also MIA from the spring game: Jordan Noil, Johnathan Durham, Isaiah Stewart, and Darreyl Patterson)

If we learned something, even a bit, about every other unit, we basically learned nothing from the defensive backs thanks to so many hold-outs. The only insight we may be able to glean is that AJ Parker, who looked good in that role last year subbing during injuries to teammates, appears to have firmly moved into D.J. Reed’s spot opposite Shelley.

Special Teams

K-State’s kicking units looked not good, even for the conditions. Nick McLellan (38 yard) and Jake Roark (48 yard) and each missed a field goal in the first half, though Blake Lynch knocked a 44-yard attempt through the uprights in the second half. Thanks to the new kickoff rules, we were treated to a lot of pooch-kicks and fair catches inside the 20 yard-line. Isaiah Harris was able to attempt one return, that he brought back for 13 yards.

Only two punts were attempted on the day, both from the White squad. Devin Anctil booted his lone punt 41 yards and dropped it inside the 20, and Bernardo Rodriguez booted his attempt for 31 yards.

Based on the performance from the spring game, unless some major growth occurs this summer, K-State fans will be sorely missing Matthew McCrane and Nick Walsh this fall.

Overall

The White defense looked solid, even without expected starters at safety, holding the first two Purple offense drives scoreless (thanks to missed field goals) before Skylar Thompson directed his first TD drive in the second quarter. But the depth on defense is concerning, as the 2nd unit had trouble stopping the White offense until late in the game, and had even allowed the White offense to take a lead into halftime. Hopefully the return of Goolsby, Adams, and Walker on the back end, plus additions from the 2018 recruiting class, help mitigate some of those depth concerns. The starters should be good enough to handle most Big 12 defenses, but it’s exceedingly rare to finish the season with all 11/12 players that start the season.

The special teams units could cause some extra grief for Snyder and Wildcat fans this fall. The kicking units have some serious work to do, and the recent rule change to kickoffs could severely hamper K-State’s ability to take advantage of that aspect of the game like it has long been used to (both pinning opponents deep on kickoffs, as well as returning kicks for field position gain). It remains to be seen if one of the kickers can distance himself, or if Snyder will be holding open auditions for that role in September. This could easily be the shakiest overall group of kickers in Snyder’s 26 years at the helm in Manhattan.