Dante Barnett has a warning for Kansas State’s second-string offense before he lines up against it later this month at the Wildcats’ spring football game.
Be prepared to punt.
“We shouldn’t let a receiver catch any passes,” Barnett said earlier this week. “We are so experienced. We have the talent. We have a physical corner and a speed corner. That is big. Any time you can have a secondary come back that is the backbone of the defense, you love that.”
Barnett predicts domination because of what K-State returns on the back end of its defense. Barnett, a senior strong safety, has started in 28 games and is the top returning tackler on the team. Senior corner Danzel McDaniel had 59 tackles and an interception last season as a newcomer. And senior corner Morgan Burns broke up seven passes, intercepting three. The Wildcats are trying to replace major contributors at linebacker and on the defensive line, but the majority of their secondary remains intact.
“I don’t want to say we are getting the better of them,” Burns said when asked about defending K-State’s receivers in practice, “but we are walking around with a chip on our shoulder and a lot of confidence.”
If they won’t speak boldly about their skills, who will?
“We are all older guys who have been in the program and have some experience under our belt,” Burns said. “We will take it upon ourselves to lead the defense and kind of be the glue that brings it all together.”
K-State’s pass defense ranked third in the Big 12 last season in yards allowed (236.8 per game), surrendering most of its big plays between the 20s and tightening up in the red zone. Burns, Barnett and McDaniel all had their ups and downs, but they think they have improved since the Alamo Bowl.
Still, they will need to develop two players to replace Dylan Schellenberg at free safety and Randall Evans at linebacker/corner when defensive coordinator Tom Hayes uses the nickel.
K-State coach Bill Snyder said sophomores Sean Newlan and Kaleb Prewett were competing at free safety, and players said redshirt freshman Kendall Adams has also been turning heads in practice. Senior Nate Jackson and junior Donnie Starks figure to be in the mix at nickel.
So far, Snyder likes what he sees from the unit.
“The significant thing there is for those returning guys to improve their capabilities,” Snyder said. “That is the No. 1 thing across the board. Then we have got to get guys who were scout squad guys a year ago to move up. I am probably as pleased about anything in the fact that two or three of those younger guys on our back end are making some headway that I hadn’t seen before. Their performance level has surpassed what my expectations were.”
Increasing interceptions will also be an important factor for K-State’s secondary next season.
After dropping several possible interceptions last year, Hayes jokingly asked Barnett if he needed an eye exam. Now, Barnett spends time with K-State receivers before and after practice catching passes from jug machines.
“That is my main goal — catching the ball,” Barnett said. “Coach Hayes had a meeting with me this offseason, and he had the same message for me. I could have had eight or 10 picks if I would have just caught the ball.”
Barnett is hoping for more interceptions, tackles and fumbles this season. More everything, really.
The only thing he wants less of is touchdown passes allowed, starting at K-State’s spring game.
“Any time a team scores on you, as a defensive back, you are going to be mad,” Barnett said. “Even if it is seven on seven against the ones, goal line on offense, you just don’t want to be scored on. It’s a pride thing.”