A look at the Wildcats as they begin practice for the 2012 season.
Klein enters his senior season as a potential Heisman contender because of the way he used his legs last year. The Wildcats’ durable quarterback rushed for 1,141 yards and 27 touchdowns on 317 carries. He also threw for 1,918 yards and 13 touchdowns on 281 attempts, but he may need to throw more than he runs this season. Though Klein started every game last season, he had to fight through injuries late and missed several practices. The better he throws the ball this year, the more balanced K-State’s offense will be.
Hubert emerged as K-State’s leading rusher a year ago and finished the season with 970 yards on 200 carries. If not for playing through nagging injuries late, he likely would have topped the 1,000-yard mark. Angelo Pease looked good in the Wildcats’ spring game, and could be in line for extra carries. Also look for fullback Braden Wilson to receive a few looks out of the backfield. He was considered one of the team’s leaders during summer workouts.
Before Lockett suffered a season-ending injury against Oklahoma State, the Wildcats looked explosive at wide receiver. Chris Harper was becoming a legitimate No. 1 target, Tramaine Thompson was delivering in the slot and Lockett was showing off on offense and on special teams. In his first nine games, Lockett scored three receiving touchdowns and two more as a return man. But how healthy is he? He was withheld from the spring game because of a minor injury. Curry Sexton, Torell Miller, Zach McFall should provide adequate help off the bench, and Kyle Klein and Deante Burton have potential as well. But the late deflection of Marquez Clark could hurt K-State’s receiving corps if Lockett isn’t fully healthy.
At this time last year, everyone wanted to know which inexperienced K-State lineman could fill in for the departure of three solid interior blockers. Enter Finney at center. As a freshman, he was one of the team’s top linemen, and is now a team captain. Now everyone wants to know who will fill in for the loss of three tackles who started games last year. Once again, an unproven player will need to step up. Boston Stiverson, Cornelius Lucas, Cody Whitehair, Tavon Rooks and Keenan Taylor will all get opportunities. Nick Puetz will help Finney lead the group as a returning veteran.
K-State faces more uncertainty at this position than any other. Gone are tackles Ray Kibble and Raphael Guidry, and Jordan Voelker, an unheralded defensive end who was always in the right position and knocked down a handful of passes. Meshak Williams showed flashes of greatness last season with seven sacks at defensive end. But he didn’t start a single game. Neither did Adam Davis, who is expected to start at the other defensive end position this season. Are they ready for the extra playing time? The same could be asked of Lutui, who made 34 tackles last year while playing in the shadow of Kibble. Everyone else is competing for playing time is unproven.
It’s hard to imagine Brown topping his junior season. After leading the team with 101 tackles he was chosen Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year and is now an All-American candidate. Tre Walker transitions into an every-down player. The question is who the third linebacker will be. Jarell Childs and Justin Tuggle seem to be the most likely candidates. Childs has shown potential in the past, but struggled with injuries. Tuggle is a converted quarterback with plenty of athleticism.
Though K-State’s defense improved in most areas last season, its secondary was still susceptible to the big play. The Wildcats allowed 263.3 yards passing yards per game, and gave up 26 touchdowns through the air. Cornerback Nigel Malone helped offset those lapses by making seven interceptions, and K-State had 18 interceptions overall. Still, the Wildcats’ secondary will look to improve behind Malone and safety Ty Zimmerman this year. Thomas Ferguson is the likely replacement for Tysyn Hartman at safety, and Allen Chapman seems ready for more playing time with the departure of David Garrett. Kip Daily and Jarard Milo could also see playing time.
Special teams coordinator Sean Snyder inherits the perfect situation this season. Anthony Cantele returns at kicker, Ryan Doerr is back at punter, Tyler Lockett should continue returning kickoffs and Tramaine Thompson and Ty Zimmerman are ready to return punts.