Less than 48 hours before kickoff in Morgantown, W.Va., Kansas State defensive coordinator Joe Klanderman wasn’t sure whether AJ Parker would be available to play.
“We’re still trying to figure that out,” Klanderman said Thursday. “He’s going to try to do some things today. We’ll know more in a couple of hours.”
Parker, a fifth-year senior, left moments before the end of the first half of last week’s 55-14 win over Kansas. K-State head coach Chris Klieman said Monday that Parker suffered an ankle injury, but that it wouldn’t keep the Oklahoma native out for an extended period.
Associate head coach Van Malone, who also serves as the team’s cornerbacks coach, replaced Klieman during the head coach’s weekly Tuesday press conference. Malone has been Parker’s primary position coach since Klieman’s staff arrived at the beginning of 2019.
Malone is optimistic Parker will be cleared in time for Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff against West Virginia.
“He is continuing to progress. We got good news the other day, so we are with the medical staff, just continuing to keep him going through the process,” Malone said. “He is one of those (players) who, it kills him to miss a rep. We look for us to continue to get good news, because he’s progressing and getting better day after day. So we’ll just see on Saturday.”
After opening the season at his natural position, cornerback, Parker has started the past four games at nickelback. The 5-foot-11, 178-pound defender has drawn praise from coaches and teammates alike for how seamlessly he has transitioned to the spot.
He has recorded 22 tackles this season. He also has four pass breakups and an interception. Parker returned his pickoff for a 37-yard touchdown in K-State’s win over TCU earlier this month.
If he can’t give it a go Saturday, Klanderman didn’t hesitate: Will Jones will move into the lineup at nickel. Jones started at the spot in the opener versus Arkansas State — and as Klanderman was quick to note, logged “60-some snaps” in that role in the loss to the Red Wolves. Jones played 32 snaps at nickel against the Jayhawks.
“You wouldn’t have even known who was in the game last week between him and AJ,” Klanderman said. “Will’s not far off. He’s done a lot of good things, and he’s improved. I think having AJ in front of him has helped him a little bit, just to see some of AJ’s process, to see maybe some of his movements, to see where he can be patient, where he has to be fast. I think that’s helped him understand the game a little bit more.”
Jones had a stellar outing in the opener, blocking a punt and picking off a pass, becoming the first Wildcat to accomplish that feat in a game since 2008. Then in K-State’s road win over TCU, he tallied a career-high five tackles.
“I don’t fear Will being in there at all,” Klanderman said. “He’s a guy who’s going to be, obviously, a big part of this thing moving forward and years to come.”
Jones won’t be asked to shoulder it alone, though.
“The other guys who will probably see some more time because of (Parker’s absence) — if it happens — would be Hunter Henry and Aamaris Brown,” Klanderman said. “Those are guys who have gotten a lot of reps this week with AJ out of practice.”