To many in the college football world, Kansas State is in a rebuilding mode this year after being one win away from playing for the national championship.
The Wildcats’ Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein is gone. Receiver Chris Harper, tight end Travis Tannahill and fullback Braden Wilson are also gone now.
All four players need replaced for sure, but helping that process along is the return of the Wildcats’ entire offensive line, one that was among the best in the Big 12 a year ago.
The offensive line, anchored by All-Big 12 junior center B.J. Finney, could be the key to the Wildcats contending again in 2013, especially with a new quarterback at the helm.
“They’ve meshed well,” K-State offensive line coach Charlie Dickey said. “They know each other, they’ve played together and that’s important. They’re all guys who take care of business.”
There are sure to be some growing pains with the new QB — whether its Daniel Sams or Jake Waters — because neither of them will do anything quite like Klein did for the Wildcats. Dickey said having the entire line back will help a young quarterback, if the unit continues to improve.
“Having everyone back will bring us comfort, as long as we perform well and keep getting better,” Dickey said. “That’s what we talk about and stress everyday — keep getting better and don’t take things for granted.”
Joining the 6-foot-4, 303-pound Finney in the trenches is senior Cornelius Lucas (6-9, 328 pounds), senior Tavon Rooks (6-5, 280 pounds), senior Keenan Taylor (6-4, 290 pounds) and sophomore Cody Whitehair (6-4, 309 pounds).
This group led a rushing offense that ranked fourth in the Big 12 and allowed the second-fewest sacks in the league with 14 last season. Combined with the running talents of Klein and running back John Hubert — who was 53 yards away from 1,000 last season — it’s no secret why the Wildcats produced nearly 39 points per game, ranking 11th nationally.
Whitehair, from Abilene originally, said the approach that made the unit so effective last season hasn’t changed, especially with Hubert back for his senior season and expecting to carry a bigger load.
“Our goal everyday is come in with an attitude of being better,” said Whitehair who started 12 games a year ago. “We had a great season last year as a team and as a unit, but our main focus everyday — day in and day out — is to become better and closer overall.
“Our personalities gel and we’ve came together a lot more since last year. We’ve stressed consistency this summer. It’s always our goal to make it to a national championship, and you got to take it one day at a time.”
Whitehair said the teamwork doesn’t end with just the offensive line, but how the offensive line works with the weapons behind them.
“It’s really competitive, especially at the quarterback position,” he said. “But John is running really well and Robert Rose is doing good things too. All our running backs are doing great things. They’re seeing how we’re playing and what holes work for them, and we’re seeing how they’re running and how they respond to the holes we make.”
Whitehair did say not having Klein’s familiar No. 7 behind him, will be an adjustment.
“It will be different to see a different quarterback back there,” he admitted. “But the guys are working hard and we’re looking forward to seeing who’s back there.”
Like Whitehair, Dickey said he has faith the rest of the offensive unit will do their jobs.
“We have good talent all across the board,” he said. “The receivers are going to catch balls, we believe in the quarterbacks and we believe in the running backs, because we got good skill sets back there, and John immediately comes to mind.
“It doesn’t matter who’s behind us, we’re going to block.”