One of the biggest perks that comes with Kansas State returning eight starters on offense is that coach Bill Snyder knew the strengths and weaknesses of the unit long before spring football practices began.
Behind senior quarterback Collin Klein and junior running back John Hubert, the Wildcats were a run-first team last year. They rushed for 185.5 yards per game, controlled clock and most of their victories came in close fashion.
They threw for 151.5 yards per game, and Klein had his share of highlight passes. But K-State was at its best when it ran the ball effectively.
A more balanced offense is the goal for this fall. Snyder has adjusted spring practices accordingly by emphasizing the pass.
“This spring ball is the first time we’ve had a returning quarterback who knows the offense inside and out,” tight end Travis Tannahill said. “We started right where we left off in the fall. We’ve been able to progress and move forward from that and put in a more complex system.”
That means more passing options for Klein at the line of scrimmage, and more big-play opportunities for K-State’s receiving corps.
Chris Harper led the team in receptions (40) and receiving yards (547) last year, and is hoping for more as a senior. Teammates say he has improved as a route-runner, and he leads a group of receivers that features Tramaine Thompson, Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton.
Along with Travis Tannahill and Andre McDonald at tight end, Klein will have no shortage of experienced players to target.
“Through this offseason, we have built more of a rapport with him because we knew he was the guy,” Sexton said. “We got together with him on Saturdays and threw the ball around. Collin directed all that. He’s a guy that you can almost just give the keys to.
“He’s so smart and can read defenses so well that he can run an offense for you and run a drive by himself. That makes it so much easier as a receiver to know you’ve got a quarterback who is getting you into the right play every single time.”
Last year, Klein opted to run the ball more than he threw it. He completed 161 passes for 1918 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior while rushing for 1,448 yards on 317 carries. Some of his most successful plays came on designed passing plays, when he dropped back in the packet, tucked the ball and ran for first downs.
That led to as many as 35 carries in a game, a workload that wore on him as the season went along. He exited the field wearing a bloody jersey almost every week, and was unable to participate in practices after some of the more physical games.
Not that he seemed to mind.
“Whatever we’ve got to do to win,” Klein said. “That’s what I’ve said forever. I think we have improved in that area (passing) and we will continue to improve in that area, but it boils down to whatever we have to do to win.”
Still, a more balanced approach would be ideal.
“Collin will tell you quicker than anyone he doesn’t want to carry the ball 30 times a game,” Sexton said. “He doesn’t want to take that load. He will do it if that’s what it takes to win. But he’s a quarterback; he wants to chuck the ball around, because that’s what quarterbacks do.”
To that end, Klein dedicated most of his practice time in the offseason to developing as a passer.
“Collin hasn’t done anything to disappoint us,” Snyder said. “He has taken some steps forward.”
That type of development wasn’t possible last season. Klein was entering his first year as a full-time starter, and the Wildcats were trying to replace their leading passer, rusher and receiver.
Once K-State established itself as a running team, it stuck with it and won 10 games.
Now, the Wildcats hope to do more on offense.
“You’re going to see us throw the ball a little bit more this year,” Sexton said. “Collin wants to do it. Collin has the capabilities to do it. We have the receivers to do it. We have the tight ends to do it. It’s going to be a real exciting year.”