Cats have holes to fill on defense

By Joel Jellison

Tre Walker was part of a highly-touted linebacking crew in 2012, joining Arthur Brown in a unit that received plenty of attention for Kansas State.

But Walker’s 2012 campaign was cut short eight games into the season when he went down awkwardly making a tackle in the Oct. 27 game against Texas Tech.

The season-ending knee injury shifted the junior’s role from linebacker to motivational supporter. And as the spring game nears for the Wildcats on April 27, Walker is unsure whether or not he will be ready to play.

But the senior-to-be said it’s been one of the toughest things he’s ever endured.

“It has been an uphill battle,” he said Thursday. “Some days were my toughest — I never had to deal with something like this. I am trying to stay positive, trying to keep myself motivated. My dad told me one time, ‘that sometimes the motivator needs to be motivated.’

“Every day was an uphill battle. I talked to Coach a lot, my teammates kept me up in my spirits, and right now I can honestly say I am ahead of schedule. We are looking good and feeling good.”

K-State coach Bill Snyder said Walker is working with the No. 1 linebackers in practice, which includes Jonathan Truman and Blake Slaughter. But his status for the spring game is still unknown.

Walker said it’s his own preference to not play in the game, allowing younger players to get the chance to compete.

The Wildcats are looking at plenty of competition on the defensive side of the ball this spring with just three returning starters in Walker, Ty Zimmerman and Randall Evans.

K-State has gaps to fill at two of the three linebacker spots, one of the safety spots, two cornerback slots and at all four defensive line positions.

Snyder said the defensive side of the ball is more competitive so far than the offense, which lost just four of its starters.

“Defensively, we have about seven spots that are genuinely very competitive right now,” he said. “We have about five guys in our interior defensive line that have made that a competitive position. We have got four guys with our defensive ends that have made that competitive. Our linebacker position is probably competitive with legitimately four guys right now. Our secondary, about six guys have made it competitive.”

Walker said he expects several guys to open eyes in the spring game and into fall camp, including Truman and Slaughter, and defensive end Marquel Bryant. But many players will be looking to fill the big shoes left by those who played ahead of them a year ago.

Brown led the team with 100 tackles a season ago, while Jarell Childs and Justin Tuggle — two offensive players converted to defense — had big plays during the season.

Nigel Malone and Allen Chapman had strong seasons in the secondary, and defensive end Meshak Williams had a breakout season in his final year.

Slaughter will have the chore of stepping into Brown’s position, and he said the key is trying to play his own game rather than trying to duplicate what Brown did.

“I talked to (athletic director) John Currie after the Fiesta Bowl and one thing he said was, ‘hey, it’s yours now, you need to step in and step up.’ And I was like, ‘yeah, I have some big shoes to fill,’ and he said, ‘those are some big shoes to fill, but you be you.’ And I think that just stood out to me,” he said. “I need to be me, I can’t do some of the things Arthur did, but me being me may be enough for this team.”

Slaughter entered last season as a senior, but decided to use his available redshirt after discussing the future with Snyder and linebacker coach Mike Cox.

Walker said they want to be as good as the defense that helped the Wildcats to an 11-2 season and a BCS bowl bid last season. He knows it won’t be easy.

“We want to be back where we were before, Big 12 champions, but it’s definitely going to take a lot of work,” he said. “I think if we get together and get back to the drawing board and not worry so much about where we were last year, but focus on what we want to become, I think we will be fine.

“It’s going to take a lot of workouts and building together — we have a new bond and a new team — but we will be successful.”

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