Spring ball is in full swing for the Wildcats, as practice started after spring break.
K-State football has historically been known for its strong defense, and this year will not be any different. Despite new coaches and losing key players from the previous squad, I still believe that the 2018 defensive unit has the chance to be a great one.
The Wildcats will have a bit of a different look in terms of defensive coaching.
Blake Seiler steps in as the new defensive coordinator, remaining the linebackers coach. Brian Norwood will step in as the secondary coach and assist Seiler as co-defensive coordinator.
As for the players, let us first look at the state of the defensive line.
On the defensive line, K-State loses tackle Will Geary and end Tanner Wood. Geary was selected to the all-Big 12 first team in each of his last three seasons. Geary finished his career with 164 total tackles, good for 12th in school history. Last season, Wood finished with 35 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks. He also knocked down four passes, the highest of any Wildcat defensive lineman since 2013.
The good news is that K-State has experienced players returning in these positions. Defensive tackle Trey Dishon started alongside Geary the last two seasons, and is coming off a Big 12 Honorable Mention season.
Sophomore Drew Wiley and junior Joe Davies also bring slight experience on the interior. Wiley got playing time in all 13 games and Davies registered a sack against Iowa State and forced a fumble against West Virginia University.
As for defensive ends, K-State returns one starter in junior Reggie Walker. Walker made Second Team All-Big 12 last season, on his way to 36 tackles and six tackles for loss.
Junior Kyle Ball and redshirt sophomore Bronson Massie are likely to compete for a starting spot at defensive end. Ball played in 11 games, contributing primarily in pass-rush situations. Massie played in nine games, including a start against Iowa State. He recorded six tackles against Texas Tech.
Seiler will take a hit at the linebacker position. Honorable Mention All-Big 12 linebackers Jayd Kirby and Trent Tanking have graduated. The two were the team’s leading tacklers, with 99 and 97 respectively. Kirby often got into the backfield with a team leading 11.5 tackles for loss, and Tanking made it hard for teams to pass over the middle with four pass-breakups.
Despite these losses, the situation at linebacker looks promising. Junior Elijah Sullivan played in every game last season, including two starts against Vanderbilt and UCLA. Against the Bruins in the Cactus Bowl, he finished with a career-high six tackles. He was also a big-time contributor on special teams.
Redshirt junior Da’Quan Patton sat out last season, but will now be competing for a starting job. It has been said by many that Patton is very strong and athletic, and could be one of the best K-State linebackers. Last spring, associate head coach and special teams coach Sean Snyder compared him to the likes of Percell Gaskins, a great K-State linebacker in the ‘90s.
Senior Sam Sizelove, junior Justin Hughes and freshman Daniel Green will also compete for playing time as well. Overall, the linebackers this year will be more athletic this year and, in my opinion have the potential to be the team’s strongest position group.
The secondary took some key losses as well. Most notably is the loss of All-Big 12 and All-American D.J. Reed. Reed was second in the conference last season with four interceptions. Reed also returned a kick and a punt for a touchdown last season and leaves behind 125 total career tackles. Along with Reed, the Wildcats lose nickelback Cre Moore.
While Reed and Moore have moved on, K-State gets back senior Duke Shelley. Shelley saw significant playing time as a freshman, and has started 23 of 26 games the last two seasons. He registered 56 tackles and picked off two passes last season on his way to Honorable Mention All-Big 12. Shelley will be a veteran presence to guide younger defensive backs.
The Wildcats return redshirt sophomore A.J. Parker and junior Jonathan Durham, who both stepped up last year when Reed, Shelley and Moore were injured. Parker played well in the upset of Oklahoma State, recording five tackles and a tackle for loss — all while playing with a broken hand.
At the safety position, K-State returns both starters.
Senior Kendall Adams will be coming off a season-ending Achilles injury, but should be ready when September arrives. He is the No. 1 returning safety in the Big 12, according to Pro Football Focus. He finished last season with 63 tackles and three interceptions, including a pick-six and a fumble-recovery touchdown against Charlotte.
Junior Denzel Goolsby is carrying momentum into the spring, as he was named the Defensive Most Valuable Player of the Cactus Bowl. In his first season as a starter, he was third on the team with 78 tackles, also intercepting two passes.
Senior Eli Walker will also compete for time in the secondary and be able to contribute either at safety or cornerback. Walker saw action in 11 games last season with 21 tackles and played on special teams as well.
While coaching changes and player turnover are alive, I do not feel like that will hinder this team as the defense looks like it will be very strong. I predict that it will be one of the better ones Snyder has coached and will finish in the top 10 in the whole country.
Editor’s note: All player’s years in school are what they will be classified as next fall.
Jarrett Whitson is a sophomore in mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.