If you live in the Manhattan area, I want you to do me a favor. Open your front door and step outside*. You’ll notice the warming temperatures and melting snow. That can mean only one thing; spring football is almost upon us!
*Disclaimer: According to the National Weather Service you shouldn’t step outside today.
Spring practice is important for players looking to make a move up the depth chart or step into a spot vacated by a departing player, but this year, it’s doubly important with Coach Chris Klieman taking over the reigns at Kansas State. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. This is an opportunity for players to show the new staff what they bring to the table on the field, and maybe more importantly, how they practice.
With a few exceptions, the Wildcat depth chart is wide open at every position. Quarterback happens to be one of those exceptions. Skylar Thompson is the obvious choice to lead the K-State offense and should be encased in the thick layer of bubble wrap at all times. That isn’t to say that the quarterback position won’t have some intriguing battles in spring and fall camp, because after Thompson (who has a checkered injury history) the battle for back up quarterback is wide open.
When I say wide open, I mean wiiiiiiiiiiide open. Thompson is the only quarterback on the squad who has thrown a pass in an actual game. Jaren Lewis, the freshman quarterback from the 2019 class is already on campus, so the full battle for QB2 starts in the spring and will continue on into the fall. Chances are, we won’t know who actually won the battle until we see who takes the field should Skylar need a break or the K-State lead gets out of hand.
Totally Unofficial And Speculative Depth Chart
- Skylar Thompson - Jr
- John Holcombe II - RS FR or Jaren Lewis - FR or Samuel Wheeler - RS FR (alphabetical order)
I won’t spend much time on Skylar, because he’s secure at the top of the depth chart and we all know what he brings to the table. One major facet of his game that he’ll be working on in the spring is taking snaps from under center. The Klieman offense at North Dakota State was mostly out of the shotgun, but he does like to put his quarterbacks under center on occasion, and not just in short yardage situations.
Thompson will also continue to work on his zone read skills. At the start of last season, I’m not sure he was reading anything before handing off. His comfort in pulling the ball if the defense crashed down improved as the season progressed last year. The zone read was an important component in the North Dakota State offense under Klieman, and I don’t anticipate that changing at Kansas State.
John Holcombe II - 6’4, 250 - 3* (86) - Dual Threat
Hands down, John Holcombe II wins the “quarterback I would least like to fight” on the Kansas State roster award. I’m not sure that gets him anywhere on the depth chart, but he’s a massive human being with solid athletic ability. He was considered a “dual threat” quarterback coming out of high school, and now he’s grown to Cam Newton proportions.
At worse, I could see Holcombe playing a factor in goal line and short yardage situations where the Wildcats want to run the quarterback, but may not want to get their only quarterback with experience actually throwing a forward pass blasted by the defensive line and linebackers in the process. If it’s 1st and goal from the 5 and in, give me QB power with Holcombe four straight times and let the chips fall where they may.
Of course, being big and athletic doesn’t mean you can throw the football or make the correct reads in the running game. Holcombe must show that he can manage the passing game efficiently and deliver accurate and on time balls if he wants to be the first quarterback off the bench and not a fun gadget player to have on the roster. He threw for 2,369 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior in high school, so throwing the ball is something he does well, but the Big 12 isn’t high school football.
He looks the part. If he can play the part, the Kansas State will be in good shape.
Jaren Lewis - 6’1, 200 - 3* (83) - Dual Threat
Lewis graduated early from high school in order to throw his name into the spring football back up quarterback derby, and it was a smart choice on his part.
He was originally committed to North Dakota State but decided to follow Coach Klieman to Manhattan. Out of all the back up quarterbacks on the roster, it stands to reason that Klieman is most familiar with Lewis. That certainly can’t hurt the freshman from Missouri’s chances at snagging the back up position.
Lewis was a true dual threat in high school, throwing for 2,895 yards and 25 touchdowns and running for 700 yards as a senior. Out of all the other quarterbacks on the roster, his overall playing style is closest to fellow Missouri native Thompson.
While Lewis does have some good things going for him in the race for QB2, he is still a true freshman (truer than most because he should still be in high school). It’s going to be a big ask both physically and mentally for him to come in and beat out two guys with a year of college football experience under their belts. College football is a physical and mental grind, and for Lewis to win the back up job, he’s going to have to show he is up for the challenge in his first year on campus.
Samuel Wheeler - 6’4, 220 - 3*(82) - Dual Threat
Don’t sleep on Wheeler in this quarterback battle. Dude is a grinder who puts out maximum effort on the practice field and has an intriguing skill set. In 2018, Wheeler was the co-winner of the Red Raider Award. This award is given to the top performer on the scout team.
As a high school quarterback, Wheeler didn’t put up the gaudy numbers, throwing for 1,187 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushing for 634 yards and 5 touchdowns for his career. Physically, however, Wheeler has the tools that seemingly translate to the Klieman offense, and he’s a hard worker.
My guess is that the 2nd string job is going to be awarded to the player who has the best grasp of the offense and is most consistent in practice. Wheeler has already shown top notch practice habits. If he can pick up the offense, there is no reason why he couldn’t win the back up job for the Wildcats.