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Springing Into Action: Wildcats Prepare for 2014 Season
April 9, 2014
By Kelly McHugh
The sights and sounds of spring have arrived at the Vanier Sports Complex, and while the birds are chirping and sun is shining outside the building, inside, K-State head coach Bill Snyder and company are hard at work preparing for the 2014 season.
Nearly 100 days after defeating Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, the Wildcats were back at Bill Snyder Family Stadium where spring practices began on Wednesday, April 2.
"We just started spring ball and everything's going well. We've had a couple practices, but we're still trying to get into the swing of things," senior defensive end Ryan Mueller said. "We've got some new faces out there and I'm looking forward to seeing those guys improve over the next couple of days."
While the Wildcats return 14 starters from the 2013 squad, the team lost key leaders such as All-American safety Ty Zimmerman and All-Big 12 performers in running back John Hubert and linebacker Blake Slaughter.
When it comes to college football, change with every season is inevitable, but so far this spring, Snyder said he's been happy with the way his guys have stepped up and shown leadership on the field.
"I think, potentially, we have a number of guys that have the capacity to be quality leaders in our program and a certain number of them are moving rapidly and readily into that arena," Snyder said. "We have some guys who have taken it very seriously and have really stepped up and tried to provide the quality of leadership from within and the hard part for most young people is the demanding aspect of it."
So far, the Wildcats have had four practices and, according to Snyder, will hold a full scrimmage in his practice today with many more to come leading up to this year's Purple/White Spring Game on April 26.
"There's a lot of different factors to it, but you're excited about workouts being over and starting to be able to playing football again," said junior kicker Jack Cantele about spring ball. "You're also looking forward to spring game where you get to compete and try and earn a spot. All these guys are competing, and everyone from the bottom is competing for a spot; there's no guarantees. Everyone that's here embraces that, so that's another thing to be excited about."
Snyder and select players addressed the media for the first time this spring on Tuesday afternoon, and much time was spent discussing the Wildcats offense for the upcoming season.
Today's K-State Sports Extra has taken a look at the Wildcats' offensive crew.
There's no doubt the excitement is high from Wildcat fans nationwide as the team returns one of the country's best wide receivers in senior Tyler Lockett. Lockett, a receiver who marked his name all over the K-State record books last season, will be joined by fellow senior Curry Sexton, the team's second leading receiver in 2013, juniors Kyle Klein, Stanton Weber and community-college transfer Andre Davis, sophomore Deante Burton, and redshirt freshmen Judah Jones and Vernon Vaughn.
While the dynamic group is already force to be reckoned with, a possible position switch to wide receiver for last year's part-time quarterback, Daniel Sams, was a popular topic of discussion yesterday when Snyder addressed the media for the first time this spring.
"Right now I've told Daniel if he wants to try his hand at wide receiver I'd certainly give him the opportunity, so he's working at the wide receiver position and he's growing," Snyder said. "It's a work in progress, but we're giving him the opportunity and he's made some headway, he truly has."
As for his thoughts on the overall depth of the wide reviver core, Snyder said, "We may have six guys that could fit into the mix if they continue to make the progress that they have until this point in time. I think of all the positions, it's maybe the one that has made the steadiest improvement over the course of these four days."
After losing one of the most talented running backs in Wildcat history in Hubert, K-State will look to fill the position with either senior DeMarcus Robinson or sophomores Charles Jones and Jarvis Leverett. Robinson is the only player of the three with playing time as he has recorded 45 yards on 11 carries.
"At that position, it's going to be very competitive," Snyder said. "There are three young guys right now, Jones, Leverett and Robinson, and I wouldn't pick one right now. Robinson is at the top of the chart right now because he came out on the top out of the fall, but I think we see some promise in the two younger guys."
Though buzz about Sams moving to wide receiver might have some skeptical at the depth of the quarterback position, there's no doubt in Snyder's mind that last year's starting quarterback Jake Waters is the guy for the job in 2014 with redshirt freshman Jesse Ertz and sophomore Joe Hubener following closely behind.
In the final seven games of the 2013 season, Waters threw for 207.7 yards per game, tossed 14 touchdown passes and surrendered only four picks.
"I like his approach right now, he really is all business. He's dedicated to continuing the improvement that he has made," Snyder said. "Our offense started out the first day and he was really on top of things - he threw the ball, ran the ball extremely well. The most important thing is making the right decisions all the time, but I don't worry about that with him. I know the kind of dedication he has with it. As mistakes are made, he will get them corrected. The one thing you don't expect out of Jake is for him to make the same mistake too many times in a row, it just won't happen."
On the offensive line, K-State returns All-Big 12 center B.J. Finney with 2013 All-Big 12 performer Cody Whitehair as well as Boston Stiverson by his side. While the Cats may have lost departed senior tackles Cornelius Lucas and Tavon Rooks from the line, Snyder is optimistic in the development of his new players.
"The two new guys, the community college guys, (Luke) Hayes and (Aaron) Bennett, they're feeling their way around; it's not an easy task for them," Snyder said. "I was pleased in the short scrimmage that we had on Monday. They performed better than they had in the previous three and a half practices. It's a learning experience, and it's just going to be repetition. Luke in particular, during the out-of-season program, I don't have any doubts of him coming along quick enough; I think both of them will come around. It's just a matter of learning the nuances of the position."
Stay tuned next week as the K-State Sports Extra will dive deeper into 2014 K-State football defensive squad.
K-State's Ryan Mueller pumps up his teammates before the game against Iowa State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas on November 2, 2013. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)