MANHATTAN — Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder is taking the same approach to spring practices that he always has, but his message to players is a little different.
Coming off a 10-win season that ended with a trip to the Cotton Bowl, the Wildcats are poised to make a push for more in 2012. They return eight starters on offense, six starters on defense, and welcome back quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown as seniors.
That gives K-State the opportunity to build on everything it accomplished last year, and to mature as a group quicker than most teams. But that’s still not an easy process. Snyder wants his team to realize that.
“The thing I have to caution our players about is: Every team is different,” Snyder said. “This team is far different than last year’s team. That might be a plus. It might not be. It’s just the makeup of your football team. The dynamics change even though you don’t lose a whole bunch of guys.
“My caution is not taking things for granted. That has always been the case, but I probably highlight that more right now, because you have more returning players and the expectation level might grow a little bit.”
Senior cornerback Nigel Malone says that message might normally be hard to understand, but not for this group.
When he thinks back to last season, he is happy about making seven interceptions and helping K-State’s defense improve. But he also can’t shake the memory of losing to Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.
“It’s a crazy feeling to have confetti thrown all around your face, but none of it is for you,” Malone said. “It’s one of the sickest feelings ever. We’re hungry. That left a sour taste in our mouths. We are out there working hard to make sure those losses don’t happen this year.”
K-State has a few priorities to take care of during the spring. They include replacing three starters on the offensive line, developing defensive backs capable of following David Garrett and Tysyn Hartman, and increasing depth at both linebacker and on the defensive line.
So far, those missions seem to be going well. On Tuesday, Snyder spoke highly of Justin Tuggle and Jarell Childs at linebacker, Thomas Ferguson and Allen Chapman at defensive back and said the team had several up-and-coming offensive linemen. They are all working with the team’s veterans to make sure K-State is able to continue progressing.
“That’s definitely our mentality and what we are striving for,” Klein said. “Have we been perfect so far? No, we’re still in the process of getting better. But it’s a growing process. We’re enjoying it. We’re working hard and getting better.
“We definitely have a little momentum and just a little bit more of experience and maturity and knowing what it takes to be successful. We know how small the margin is between success and failure. We are just doing everything we can to make sure we end up on the right side of that.”
With a successful group of players on the roster, the Wildcats know how to take advantage of spring practices.
Snyder is simply reminding them.
“The bottom line is: It really doesn’t make any difference if you don’t do something about it,” Snyder said. “We have to be really careful about that, not taking things for granted and just expecting good things to happen, because it won’t happen that way.”
Backup QB — Freshman Tavarius Bender and redshirt freshman Daniel Sams are expected to compete for the backup quarterback spot behind Collin Klein, but Snyder says neither player has earned the position yet. On Tuesday, Snyder said that honor would go to Sam Johnson, a sophomore from Topeka.
He has more experience than Bender and Sams.
“If we had to play tomorrow Sam would probably be the No. 2 guy,” Snyder said. “He’s a guy who has total understanding of what our system is all about.”
Back from injuries — Manase Foketi and Tyler Lockett are both participating in spring practices after missing time last season with injuries. Snyder said Foketi, who opened last season as the starter at left tackle, is easing back into drills. Lockett is working at full speed. Snyder said he has progressed from last season, when he was one of the Big 12’s top playmakers as a freshman.
Lots of Gronkowski? — Glenn Gronkowski, the little brother of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, will likely play tight end and fullback this season. The freshman will face heavy competition at both positions, with Braden Wilson returning at fullback and Travis Tannahill and Andre McDonald back at tight end, but Snyder said he has the versatility to play both positions.