If there was anything aside from the quarterback battle to take away from Saturday’s spring game, it had to be Kansas State’s defense.
While the defense might not have been the focus Saturday, figuring out who was playing on the revamped defense could have proven difficult for many K-State fans.
Besides returning starter Ty Zimmerman, and a few experienced guys like Randall Evans and Ryan Mueller, every other player on the field for the Purple team is limited in their playing time with the Wildcats.
K-State coach Bill Snyder said his defense played well at times, and not so well at others.
“I think they played fairly well against the run, with exceptions,” he said. “I thought they didn’t play well against the pass. The quarterback had an awful lot of time back there to throw the ball and we were lacking in pass rush and lacking in being able to contain scrambles.
“The quarterback came out numerous times with ball in hand and got to the edge, and that shouldn’t happen.”
The Wildcats played Saturday’s game without the services of returning starting linebacker Tre Walker, who missed much of last season with a knee injury.
K-State returns just three starters, and seven who have played major minutes. Senior linebacker Blake Slaughter, who led the Purple with 8.5 tackles, made his return to the field after redshirting a year ago, while Jonathan Truman, who played often last season, got on the field in one of the other linebacker spots. The two are looking to replace Arthur Brown and Jarell Childs.
Safety Dante Barnett, who filled in for Zimmerman when he was injured last season, started in the safety spot vacated by Jarrod Milo.
Along the defensive line, it will be four new starters — including Mueller, who was joined by Travis Britz, Marquel Bryant and Chaquil Reed .
K-State is replacing both cornerbacks, and shifting a nickelback to one of those spots. Evans looks to move to the outside, while Dorian Roberts was on the other side and Kip Daily lined up as the new nickel.
The Wildcats didn’t appear to go deep past those positions though. The No. 1 defensive group gave up just three points in the final practice of spring, while the backups conceded 76 to the Wildcats’ starting offense.
Snyder said there was a lot to take away from the showings of both defensive units.
“It’s obvious that our twos can’t play as well as the ones,” Snyder said. “We had some problems with both. There are probably three or four schemes that created some issues, both with our ones and our twos.
“However, the ones only gave up the field goal, so that’s not a bad day’s work. But that’s not what I’m thinking about as much as I am, where did we make the mistakes?”
With all the new guys shifting into spots, and others taking over holes left by major contributors, Mueller said it’s going to take more time to prepare for the upcoming season, which he thinks can be accomplished when the team resumes practice before the fall.
Mueller said he didn’t think the defense was ready to go just yet.
“I think we’ve got a ways to go,” he said. “We’re relatively young, we’ve got some new guys, some juco transfers, some of them are going to have to work really hard to learn all the fundamental footwork that goes into every play.
“Teaching the new guys all the reads and things to look for is going to take some time.”
Slaughter thought Saturday’s showing was not only solid, but a good indication on the way spring practices have gone for the defense. Other than letting the White team quarterbacks get out and scramble a few times, he called the performance solid.
He said how good the defense will be come opening day on Aug. 30, will have to do with who steps up.
“There has been some guys that have stepped up in some positions we needed them to step in, and that’s made us way better as a defense,” he said. “We have a long way to go, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”
Walker said he could have played Saturday, and likely would have if Snyder gave him the green light, but indicated it was probably a good idea to sit out.
Heading into his senior season, Walker described the defense this upcoming year as being in a rebuilding phase and needing to rebuild quick.
“We lost a lot of key players, lost a lot of key guys, but at the same time we’ve got a lot of new faces, got a lot of new players coming up,” he said. “We’ll be fine.”