One advantage in having so many returning players for the Kansas State offense is the opportunity for the newcomers on defense to test themselves in practice daily.
While nobody is keeping score, the defense full of new starters claims to have held its own during the last few weeks of fall camp.
“We go back and forth, and that’s how it should go as a team,” defensive tackle Travis Britz said. “One day, we won. One day, they won — that’s just how it goes.”
While the offense has the clear advantage when it comes to returning experience — especially with the five-man offensive line all returning from a year ago while the defensive line looks to replace each of its starters — the defense is doing what it can to play catch up in order to be game-ready by Friday night against FCS No. 1 North Dakota State.
Linebacker Will Davis said facing an experienced offense each day has fostered growth as a unit.
“It’s helped us grow as a team and as a defense especially,” Davis said. “There are a lot of veteran guys on the offensive side of the ball, and we try to battle every day. We try to win against our offense every day.”
With the Tuesday release of head coach Bill Snyder’s initial two-deep depth chart, several questions on the defensive side of the ball seem to have answers. The defensive line, which figured to include Britz at tackle and Ryan Mueller at end, filled in the other two spots with Chaquil Reed at tackle and Marquel Bryant on the other end.
The situation at cornerback, a unit which brought back only nickelback Randall Evans from a year ago, will see senior Dorrian Roberts get the other starting spot. As often as K-State uses a nickel package, reserves Kip Daily or Morgan Burns could also see time.
Snyder said he expects the competition at cornerback to continue into the season.
“That competition is not over — it’s not written in stone,” Snyder said. “Those are the guys we like right now and have remained very competitive, and I think each one of them has something extremely positive to offer. It’s a matter of how you show up and continue to compete on game day, and we’ll take it game by game as much anything. The competition will remain, that’s for sure.”
While the initial starters are set at this point, the overall youth of the unit, as well as the relative inexperience means few jobs are completely safe. Britz said the group is just trying to come together.
“We’re young and talented, but we all come together and work as a team and a unit,” he said. “That’s really what’s important.”
Internal competitions for the nine open starting jobs have helped improve the skills of each defensive player, but knowing how many opportunities there are for newcomers has helped spur on development.
“As a team, and as a player, everyone’s always trying to get better,” Davis said. “If I can improve myself, then the guy next to me is going to improve too. It pushes everyone to work harder.”
Making Friday’s season opener a bit different than in previous years is the overall talent of North Dakota State. The Bison are physical and clearly know how to win after notching back-to-back championships in the FCS division.
While making sure the Wildcats improve themselves each day in practice is important, Friday’s opponent ensures that K-State must be ready to go from the first snap.
“They’re very good — they’re a very physical team,” Davis said. “We’ve been watching film on them for a while. We’ve got to come to play on Friday, that all I have to say.”
So does the expectation of a tougher game ramp up the pressure to perform? Davis doesn’t think so.
“It’s not so much outside pressure, but for us, we just want to play our best game,” he said. “We are trying to go out there and do what we know we can do, not trying to do anything super special.”