K-State’s offensive puzzle pieces are ready to start fitting

Wide receiver Deante Burton brings the ball downfield during the game against Texas on Oct. 25, 2014 in Bill Snyder Family Stadium. (File Photo by George Walker | The Collegian)

With a little under a week to go until the kick-off of the new season, the pieces are starting to come together for head coach Bill Snyder’s 2015 K-State football team.

The Wildcats return a near-completed jigsaw puzzle when it comes to the defensive end of the ball. Offensively, though, the pieces have been found but the fit is yet to be seen.

The biggest piece that needed to be found was the quarterback, and he was found with sophomore Jesse Ertz.

“(Ertz) evolved to the top of the race,” Snyder said in the new Vanier team theater during Tuesday’s press conference. “Like I said, I have a great deal of faith in all four of them. They really have done a nice job.”

Junior Joe Hubener, who backed up Jake Waters last season, and freshman Alex Delton look to continue to compete even though they are behind Ertz in the depth chart.

“I am trying to prepare every game like I am starting,” Hubener said. “Last year, I do not think I had that mentality, but this year I am always going to prepare as if I am starting.”

While the quarterbacks have been the focus throughout the offseason, finding the right person to take over at center was another thing high on the to-do list for K-State coaches over the summer.

Redshirt freshman Dalton Risner got the nod after putting up impressive spring and summer performances.

“I think, first and foremost, (Risner) performed better,” Snyder said. “That was the case from early in our two-a-day time. He has range to him. He has an intense desire to learn and be as good a player as he can possibly be. He is a great teammate, and he gets along with everybody – he is well received. He has proven his ability to be an effective blocker, both in the running game and in the passing game.”

Risner’s predecessor B.J. Finney also started as a freshman and held his spot over his four years at K-State.

While Risner will have starting duties as a freshman, he will have a senior-laden line around him to guide him on his way.

“He has really, going in and having a new center, labored under the possibility that we would have to have the veteran offensive linemen to take on that responsibilities on making the decisions upfront and a lot of the calls, but he evolved into that quite nicely,” Snyder said. “He was able to do so without having to redistribute those responsibilities.”

Not every position on offense is as cut-and-dry, though.

While junior running back Charles Jones got the top spot on the depth chart released on Tuesday, competition for playing time between Jones, redshirt freshman Justin Silmon and redshirt freshman Dalvin Warmack is still heated as the hunt for definite starter seems foggy.

“Well, can it be better than last year? The answer is yes,” Snyder said. “Will it be better than last year? I don’t know. Again, I think we have to see, are the pieces in place? Perhaps. But, I think the running back spot itself, there’s still some indecisiveness and (Jones) is at the top of the list right now, but (Silman and Warmack) have practiced extremely well. It has been competitive, and it will continue to be so.”

Last season, Jones rushed 133 times for 540 total yards, scoring 13 touchdowns. His longest run was only 18 yards.

“I think (Jones) has got to get better in order for us to have an improved running game,” Snyder said.

The starters for the Wildcat wide receiving corps were hardly a surprise with leading returning receiver in senior Kody Cook taking his spot with junior Deante Burton taking his side as the other returner.

“I had the best camp I have had since I have been here,” Burton said. “I am a lot more confident than I was when I first walked in, and over time it has just built up a lot of expectations for me heading into the season.”

Redshirt freshman Dominique Heath joins Cook and Burton as a starter after having a great off-season, cementing his role not only as a return man, but a receiver as well.

“He is just another one of those young guys – a good young guy,” Snyder said. “He works diligently at it. He made it important to him. He is one of those guys that stayed after workouts to just work on certain things to get better. He runs well. He catches well. He has learned the system well. He is good in and out of cuts. Still, an amount of room to improve, but by the same token, he has adapted to the wide receiver position and has the capability to line up in a lot of spots.”

K-State still has three days to iron out any wrinkles before they go under the lights Saturday night at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Snyder has his pieces, and it’s about time to see if they fit.