Losing receiver Chris Harper is a big deal. The same could be said for tight end Travis Tannahill.
Those weren’t the end of the changes, however, as Kansas State also brought in a new receivers coach Andre Coleman. The former Wildcat wide receiver replaces Michael Smith, who left for Arkansas.
Minus Harper and Tannahill, who are both in the NFL now, the Wildcats will turn to junior Tyler Lockett and senior Tramaine Thompson to carry the load in the passing game — with a new quarterback under center.
It’s not a bad duo for the new receivers coach to inherit in his first year on the job. The two combined for 1,200 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 2012.
Coleman, who played for the Wildcats from 1990-93 and spent the last three years coaching at Youngstown State, said he will look toward his NFL career to guide his of receivers.
“I just try to coach them up to be the best receivers they can be — from my experience playing the position, from my experience playing in the NFL, from my experience just being around the game,” said Coleman, who played five seasons in the NFL. “It’s not a thing of fine-tuning them — if I see something they can be better at I’m going to coach them on it.”
Thompson said the biggest difference between Coleman and Smith is in the way the information is relayed to the players. After an early adjustment period, Thompson said Coleman has been a good fit in Manhattan.
“If you talk to eight different receiving coaches, they’re going to give you eight different styles of how you’re supposed to do things,” he said this week during the Wildcats’ media day at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. “Just taking a little bit from everybody is going to take our game to the next level.”
Looking past Thompson and the speedy threat in Lockett, the Wildcats could have a lot of depth at receiver.
Lockett led the way a year ago with 44 receptions for 687 yards, but Coleman said Thompson is ready to take a bigger role in the offense this season.
“Tramaine is a vital part to our offense — he does all the little things,” Coleman said. “He’s a competitor and he’s tough, and he just makes plays. He’s worked hard over the summer, he worked hard in spring ball, and he’s doing well in camp. When you do all those things it’s not a surprise that you’ll have success, and I expect him to have some.”
Replacing Harper is still key for K-State this fall, as the team currently lacks an experienced receiver with the combination of size and speed that it wants on the outside.
The most experienced of the returners is Torell Miller, who caught four passes for 40 yards and one TD last season. Coleman said two others who are factoring into that spot right now are sophomore Kyle Klein and redshirt-freshman and former Manhattan High standout Deante Burton.
Thompson said all three have looked good this summer and early in fall camp.
“They’ve all made great plays, they’ve all had their moments, they’re all working hard and trying to get better everyday,” said Thompson, who is also one of the top kick returners in the Big 12. “It is a competitive process, but we’re all family and we work together.”
Coleman noted it isn’t enough for those three to just be guys with size and speed, but that they have to understand how to use it to their advantage — most often facing defensive backs that are quicker and smaller.
At tight end, offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said he likes the ability that Andre McDonald and Zach Trujillo could have as a 1-2 punch.
It still isn’t known who will play quarterback just yet — sophomore Daniel Sams or junior college transfer Jake Waters. A two-horse race at QB, Thompson said the receivers and tight ends have become comfortable working with both guys. He said both have improved since the spring practices.
Lockett said the most important thing going forward — for everyone on the team — will be putting the Wildcats’ success last season behind them. It’s a new season, a new team, and that’s what Lockett said the Wildcats need to be focused on right now.
“You can’t really dwell on last season,” he said. “You can still think about the good things that came from it, but at the same time, you have to be able to remember the steps that we took to get there. It wasn’t just like we practiced and got to where we were — we gave our all every single day.”