Kansas State football held its 15th (and final) practice of the spring at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. It also doubled as the only session open to the public.
Those in attendance were permitted to watch nearly an hour of the spring-capping practice.
Here are some observations from the session.
Highlight(s) of the day
It’s hard to pick just one standout play Saturday.
So let’s give one to each side of the ball.
On defense, redshirt freshman defensive end Nate Matlack, working with the second teamers, dropped into coverage and picked off a pass from Will Howard. Matlack then rumbled upfield before being knocked out of bounds — but not before he fired up the crowd, whose enthusiasm came second only to Matlack’s fellow defenders, who couldn’t stop jumping up and down on their sideline following the interception. (The offense and defense each had their own sideline Saturday.)
On offense, junior Malik Knowles showed why he’s viewed as the team’s top option in the passing game, as well as the Wildcats’ most talented receiver. During a seven-on-seven drill, starting quarterback Skylar Thompson lobbed a pass in Knowles’ direction in the left corner of the end zone. Knowles plucked the jump ball out of the air despite having a pair of defenders (defensive backs Julius Brents and Russ Yeast, both of whom joined the program as transfers since the end of the 2020 season) in the area. It’s the type of play K-State hopes Knowles will routinely make this fall — provided he stays healthy, which has been an issue for the Texas native each of the past two years.
Aside from the two highlights mentioned above, no play drew more of a reaction from the crowd than a Malachi Mitchell takedown of Jacardia Wright.
A sophomore tailback, Wright caught a pass in the flat out of the backfield.
He didn’t get far.
Mitchell, a redshirt freshman defensive back, lowered his shoulder and upended Wright. An audible “ohhhhhhh” came from the crowd after the pad-popping tackle.
The Wright stuff
That lone play didn’t define Wright’s day, though. He caught numerous passes out of the backfield Saturday, showing off a skill he hadn’t displayed in his first two seasons with the program. (He has yet to record a reception with the Wildcats in seven career games.)
That appears set to change this fall, as Saturday showed Wright has worked on perfecting his pass-catching ability.
Running back depth
Deuce Vaughn is the unquestioned starter at running back heading into the fall.
But he should have plenty of help despite the departures of Harry Trotter and Tyler Burns.
Wright’s efforts Saturday already have been noted. Joe Ervin, who opted out of playing last season, made his own share of receptions out of the backfield to go along with arguably the most explosive run of the practice. Keyon Mozee, the “other” running back K-State signed in 2020 with Vaughn, showed off his receiving ability last season, and will do so again this fall.
Running backs coach Brian Anderson on Thursday praised the progress made by Clyde Price, Kaelen Shankle and Jordan Schippers, but it’s anyone’s guess how much playing time they’ll see this fall; it seems certain they’ll enter preseason camp in August below Vaughn, Wright, Ervin and Mozee, however.
Knowles’ TD catch notwithstanding, Brents looked like the best corner on the field Saturday. A transfer from Iowa, he lined up at the line of scrimmage and gave no quarter to the Wildcats’ receivers, playing aggressively in press coverage.
Daniel Imatorbhebhe, the well-traveled transfer tight end, gives K-State another weapon offensively. The coaching staff didn’t let that versatility go to waste, as he lined up all over the field Saturday. The Wildcats hope he can be as consistently solid as Briley Moore was last season; Saturday might have given people a glimpse of how Imatorbhebhe will be used this fall.
The Wildcats’ three other transfer additions — Yeast, defensive tackle Timmy Horne and linebacker Eric Munoz — should be key contributors next season, too. Yeast and Horne will fight for starting jobs, while Munoz, at the least, will be one of the first linebackers off the bench. (He’ll keep Cody Fletcher and Daniel Green on their toes as well. Munoz didn’t transfer from Utah State planning to be a backup at K-State, after all.)
No surprises with QB pecking order
Thompson is QB1. That’s not breaking news. During seven-on-seven drills, he was calm, collected and ran the offense efficiently, as one would expect from a player entering his sixth season in Manhattan.
Remove the interception from Matlack, and Howard looked sharp Saturday. The ball came out of his hand quicker and with more zip than last season. Barring injury, he’ll be the Wildcats’ backup quarterback this fall.
Jaren Lewis, now a third-year sophomore, still has the best arm talent on the team. He has a lightning-quick delivery. With just a flick of the wrist, the ball is gone. Every throw has plenty of heat behind it, too. The story with him, as it’s been from the day he arrived on campus: consistency. If he finally begins to rein in some of his gunslinging tendencies, Lewis could push Howard for the No. 2 spot.
And what of Jake Rubley, the highly touted freshman?
Well, he looked like a freshman. (Keep in mind that he should be in his final semester of high school had he not enrolled early.)
On one play, he tried to do a bit too much. Instead of sliding to the ground, he turned over the ball on a fumble.
When Rubley took to the air, his passes often were off the mark; whether it was him misreading the defense or his receiver not running the correct route is uncertain. The most likely answer: his head is still spinning as he tries to learn the Wildcats’ playbook.
Ty Zentner appears to be in the pole position in the race to replace Blake Lynch.
Zentner was the team’s primary kickoff specialist last season, a year in which he also split punting duties. He handled kickoffs in four games in 2019.
He likely will handle kickoffs again, and should add the field goal and extra point duties to his plate next season. He made kicks of 43 and 49 yards, respectively, during Saturday’s practice.