Chris Klieman is optimistic about the status of three injured defenders heading into Saturday’s game at Mississippi State.
Klieman, in his first year as Kansas State’s head coach, is preparing for his road debut Saturday. And he might take to the field in Starkville, Mississippi, with a reinforced defense. Klieman said defensive end Wyatt Hubert, linebacker Cody Fletcher and defensive back Johnathan Durham are continuing to progress from their respective injuries.
Hubert, a third-year sophomore from Topeka, plays the most prominent role for the Wildcats, starting at defensive end in each of the first two games this fall.
He left last week’s 52-0 victory over Bowling Green with an undisclosed injury and did not return. At the time of his injury, Hubert had recorded two tackles, including one for loss.
Though Hubert didn’t participate in Monday’s practice, Klieman said that would change soon enough: Hubert would take part in Tuesday’s practice, even it was in a “limited” role.
As for Hubert’s status Saturday, Klieman struck an upbeat tone.
“We’re hopeful that he can (play),” Klieman said.
One defender Klieman is certain will take the field against the Bulldogs is Durham. The backup nickelback to Jahron McPherson, Durham played in the opener against Nicholls and tallied one tackle. He left with an injury and sat out last week against Bowling Green.
“Johnathan will be (ready to go), for sure,” Klieman said of Durham, a fifth-year senior from Aledo, Texas, who played in nine games (with six starts) last season.
Klieman said he still wasn’t sure about Fletcher’s availability. Fletcher, a junior, played in all 12 games in 2018, primarily working on special teams. But he is expected to take on more responsibilities at linebacker after Justin Hughes suffered a season-ending ACL injury during the spring. But Fletcher’s larger role was put on hold after he went down with a lower-leg injury during preseason camp.
He has yet to play this season.
“He didn’t practice (Monday) and he’ll be limited (Tuesday),” Klieman said. “I’ll know more about Cody probably Wednesday or Thursday.”
With all three receiving varying practice amounts of practice time — some with limitations, some without — Klieman said his willingness to put them in a game depends on the player. Equally important, he said, is the strength of the injured player’s position group.
He used the running back corps as an example.
“If it were Jacardia Wright and he couldn’t practice until Thursday, then that’s going to be a struggle for him,” said Klieman, referring to the true freshman who appeared in his first college game last week. “If it were (senior starter) James Gilbert and he couldn’t practice until Thursday, it wouldn’t be a struggle for him.”
There’s no “set policy” for Klieman in terms of needing a specific number of practices before a player can line up in a live game.
“It’s all based on your experience factor, and how much you’re in the game plan and what position you’re playing,” he said. “If you’re in a position where there’s a lot of depth and we can use you for a dozen plays, we will. If it’s a position where we don’t have a lot of depth, then we probably have got to get the next guy ready to go for more extended time.”