When Kansas State coach Bill Snyder finally released his depth chart for the season opener against Missouri State, one gaping question still remained.
Who will start alongside Arthur Brown and Tre Walker at linebacker?
Not surprisingly, Snyder didn’t have an answer.
“It’s very competitive,” he said, “and consequently you see on a daily basis that both of those young guys continue to get better and have performed reasonably well on the practice field, and I’m proud of them for that.
“Both of them are reasonably physical players for the position that they play. They bring good size and the ability to run to the program. Both should play.”
Elsewhere on the defense, questions were answered.
At defensive tackle, John Sua won the battle to start alongside Vai Lutui. Bubba Chapman earned the spot across the field from Nigel Malone at cornerback, while Thomas Ferguson got the nod replacing Tysyn Hartman at strong safety.
“Thomas has always been in the wings,” Snyder said. “He was a backup last year and I think most of our players have a great deal of respect for his competitive nature and his aggressiveness and how hard he plays.”
Snyder said Ferguson needs more playing time after working as a backup for so long.
“He’s been a good run defender as well as how we use him in the passing game — he’s been effective there,” he said. “He just needs more playing time because he hasn’t been on the field quite as much as we’d have liked, but I’m pleased with the progress he’s made.”
The situation at linebacker could very well be a story line going forward, regardless of who takes the field for the first defensive series. Snyder has proved over the years that getting to start week one doesn’t mean anything for week two and beyond.
Senior captain Arthur Brown said he doesn’t notice a difference when Childs or Tuggle is in beside him.
“Our defense isn’t built around a single guy,” Brown said. “They come in and fit their roles just as well as any other player would on our defense.
“They both bring a lot to the table.”
Brown said new linebackers coach Mike Cox has helped everyone prepare better for the season.
“Coach Cox does a great job,” Brown said. “He brings a lot of intensity to our defense, a lot of structure. We’ve all rallied around him and are just looking forward to seeing how it works on Saturday.”
Brown said all the new players on defense, from the defensive line to the secondary, are going to be ready for Saturday, with the hope that backups and starters alike will get plenty of playing time.
“I think they’re excited, and I think that’s really what matters,” he said. “They’re looking forward to it and they’re confident in their preparation throughout this fall camp. I’m looking forward to them getting out there and enjoying themselves and really being successful.”
That success may vary from week to week, though the expectation is K-State will perform better in this season opener than they did a year ago against Eastern Kentucky.
Backup cornerback Randall Evans said the team would atone for last year with its play on the field, not by talking about it.
“It’s going to be talked about, but we’ve got to let them talk and do what we’ve got to do on the field,” Evans said.
“We know how good we are, so we don’t need to do any talking.”
Evans figures to see the field in nickel packages and in obvious passing situations, but is hoping to use his versatility to claim even more playing time.
“I can play safety or cornerback, either one,” he said. “Last spring, I was running all safety. And before that, he had me learn nickel. So I’ve been moving around. I think it’s good that me, as a defensive back, I know all the positions.
“So any coverage we’re in, I know where my safety is at, I know where my corner is at, and I know where I’m supposed to be.”
Evans expects the secondary to use its depth as an advantage this year.
“We’re pretty deep,” he said. “We only lost a couple guys. We’ve got Nigel and Allen Chapman coming back, and me, I stayed focused last year on David Garrett’s position, so we’re pretty good.”
Having depth across the board will help as the season goes on. In the case of the Tuggle/Childs battle at linebacker, whoever wins the starting job is likely to still share time with the backup, since the two are so evenly matched.
If Snyder had it his way, he might never name a starter. Barring injury, expect the ‘OR’ between the two player’s names to remain long after Saturday’s season opener.