Kansas State Wildcats Spring Practice Preview: 3 Storylines To Watch

    The players will be in action when Kansas State opens spring practice on March 29. However, all eyes will be on a coach who’s battling far more than the rust associated with the first chapter of another offseason.

    March 7, 2017

    The players will be in action when Kansas State opens spring practice on March 29. However, all eyes will be on a coach who’s battling far more than the rust associated with the first chapter of another offseason.


    Kansas State won nine games in 2016, a total it’s reached four times in the past six years. And with senior quarterback Jesse Ertz back to lead the offense, more of the same is expected in 2017. But this spring will have a different feel now that it’s been learned that legendary head coach Bill Snyder has been diagnosed with throat cancer.

    Snyder is a coaching icon, not just in Manhattan but also across the college football landscape. So, when it was announced the 77-year-old had a serious health issue, the outpouring of support was predictably overwhelming. The promising news is that Snyder’s duties with the program, including this spring, are not expected to be affected by his treatment and diagnosis.

    On the field, the Cats could be flipping the script somewhat this fall, with the offense likely to be ahead of the D for a change. While the offense has lost just a couple of starters, the defense will be getting a facelift.

    Kansas State Wildcats Spring Practice Storylines

    1. Prowling For New Defensive Stars

    The 2016 Wildcats were an exception to the rule stating the Big 12 doesn’t play defense, leading the league in total, scoring and run D. But can that trend continue without three of the program’s stars, defensive end Jordan Willis, linebacker Elijah Lee and safety Dante Barnett?

    Kansas State will have a difficult time matching last season’s numbers. Now, there is returning talent, like defensive tackle Will Geary and cornerback D.J. Reed, and this staff can be counted on to adapt on the fly. But Willis, in particular, who had a team-high 11.5 sacks, will be borderline impossible to adequately replace.

    Snyder will be banking on two of last year’s promising freshmen, Reggie Walker and Kyle Ball, and senior Tanner Wood to collaboratively pitch in to help offset some of Willis’ lost production in the pass rush.

    2. Keeping Ertz Hot

    Ertz was performing at an all-star level when last season closed. The Wildcats want to be sure the offensive ringleader keeps developing into a more complete ball distributor.

    Ertz was a central reason why K-State finished 6-1, capped by a bowl win over Texas A&M, sparking an offense that showed life in the second half. He’s a run-first quarterback, rushing for more than 1,000 yards in 2016, but his passing ability improved as well.

    The running game will rock in Manhattan in 2017, with Ertz leading the charge. However, this offense could be the catalyst for a conference title run if the veteran under center continues to maximize the playmaking ability of emerging receivers Byron Pringle and Dominique Heath.

    3. Who Is This Year’s Feature Back?

    Ertz will probably lead the Cats in rushing again, burrowing through the middle of defenses. But who’ll carry the load among the running backs now that Charles Jones is out of eligibility?

    Being the feature back in this run-based offense is a coveted position. Three of Jones’ backups from a year ago, Justin Silmon, Alex Barnes and Dalvin Warmack, averaged more than five yards per carry off the bench, so the returners are capable.

    The most intriguing member of the contending trio this spring will be Barnes. He has workhorse size at 6-1 and 221 pounds, and he was averaging a whopping 7.9 yards per carry before being shutdown with an injury late in the season.

    MORE: Big 12 Storylines, Predictions For 2017 Season

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