By Kelly McHugh
Among all things discussed at this week's K-State football press conference with head coach Bill Snyder, the common theme of consistency, regardless of which position group he spoke about, was among the most important. Though the Wildcats are through nine of the 15 allotted spring practices, Snyder hopes that in this final week before the Purple/White Spring Game, the consistency from his players will only continue to grow.
"We've had two significant scrimmages in the last week," began Snyder. "In one of them we were more consistent offensively than we were on the defensive side of the football, and (in the other) it was the other way around. My concerns there center around being consistent week in and week out, day in and day out, and that we don't take ourselves for granted. We always talk about not taking an opponent for granted or anything else in life, but certainly not taking ourselves for granted."
Though the team is focused on finding that consistency, with talent and depth in each position group no starting spot for 2014 set in stone and the competition is fierce.
As highlighted in last week's K-State Sports Extra on the Wildcats' offense, perhaps the most uncertainty comes in the running back position where three players - senior DeMarcus Robinson and sophomores Charles Jones and Jarvis Leverett - are all in the mix for the starting position to replace last year's starter, John Hubert.
While Robinson has the most game experience under his belt, on Jones and Leverett, Snyder said, "Both of them are beginning to become more aggressive runners. I think both of them have the ability to have good movement in their ball-carrying talents."
On the competition, Jones said, "When you get your opportunity, you have to show them what you want to do, so I've been taking this 100 percent and really showing them what I can do on the field so I can produce and try and help the team."
Though the three are all striving for the same starting spot, Leverett said having the opportunity to compete against each other will only make the team stronger.
"Obviously everyone wants to play and it's real competitive, but at the same time we are all K-State and the best running back is going to play," he said. "So I embrace it. It's positive. At the end of the day, I just want to win, I want to play, but I want to win."
While last week's K-State Sports Extra focused on the Wildcat offense, this week it has shined light on the K-State defense.
Led by the reigning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year, senior Ryan Mueller, the Wildcat defensive line will return to the gridiron with a group full of veteran players. Along with Mueller, K-State's defensive ends feature senior Laton Dowling and junior Marquel Bryant, with sophomore Jordan Willis, who played in nine games last season, and redshirt freshman Tanner Wood not far behind.
"There are a lot of younger guys, but it's extremely competitive - no spots are guaranteed; nobody's name is written down in ink," said Mueller, who tied K-State's single-season record for sacks with 11.5 and recorded 18.5 tackles for loss last season. "Everybody is competitive. Jordan Willis is definitely someone who got a lot of reps last season. Tanner Wood is working extremely hard. Davis Clark, I don't question that kids' work ethic, he really works hard. Laton Dowling (gives us) that senior leadership in the room and Marquel needs to step up this year, and we're expecting him to do so."
While the veterans of the Wildcats' defensive ends are a positive for the upcoming season, the Wildcats' defensive tackle position will return a veteran starter in junior Travis Britz. While Snyder said Britz, a 13-game starter who earned All-Big 12 accolades in 2013, and the defensive tackles have a lot of room to grow, he is confident the position will be ready to go by August.
"We have progress to make, but we have a returning starter in Britz, we've got Valentino Coleman, who has ample playing time from last year, and we've got Demonte Hood who has some playing time," began Snyder. "Matt Seiwert has been a scout squad guy but has been really impressive on the scout squad and is being very competitive at that position, and with Will Geary - it's the same thing."
With 2013's leading tackler Blake Slaughter (110 tackles) now gone, senior Jonathan Truman will be looked to in 2014 to lead the linebackers. Second to only Slaughter, Truman finished last season with 89 tackles and started all 13 games. The Kechi, Kan., native will be looked to as not only a leader for the linebacker position, but the entire K-State defense as well.
"Jonathan Truman is a great leader by example," said Mueller. "He's kind of quiet but he plays very well on the field and he makes plays on Saturdays."
Along with Truman, the K-State linebackers who also saw their share of action last season were juniors Dakorey Johnson, who played in eight games last year, and Charmeachealle Moore, who played primarily in passing situations. Adding competition to the starting position will be sophomore Will Davis, who registered 16 tackles on special teams and in late-game situations in 2013.
On the linebacker corps, Snyder said, "I like the progress that our young guys have made. Jonathan Truman is just a steady, intelligent young guy, a starter. Mike Moore has made a lot of headway; he played a lot last year so he stepped in to a No. 1 role. Will Davis has stepped in to a spot; he's kind of reminiscent of the backers we've had there in the past years. Dakorey Johnson, he got in late last year and was really trying to learn over the course of the season."
With four-year All-Big 12 safety Ty Zimmerman graduating, the K-State defensive backfield will look to junior Dante Barnett for leadership. No stranger to the starting position, Barnett was among K-State's toughest defenders last season and stepped up in big ways when Zimmerman was off the field with injury. Barnett averaged 7.6 tackles and intercepted three passes in the final three games of 2013 and capped off his sophomore campaign by earning Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Defensive MVP honors. Along with Barnett, K-State returns hybrid defender Randall Evans and senior safety Dylan Schellenberg. Community-college transfer Danzel McDaniel is also in the mix, as well as juniors Morgan Burns and Nate Jackson and redshirt freshman Corey Jackson, according to Snyder.
"Morgan Burns has stepped up well. Randall Evans has been there, and we have confidence in his capabilities," said Snyder on the defensive back position. "Nate Jackson has been taking an awful lot of repetition there and he's got some capabilities that we like. Danzel is just learning the system and going along, but I think he has gotten better from day one until now. Right now I think we have those four guys to choose from. I don't think we are where we need to be yet but we're getting better."