Kansas State University

K-State Q&A: What to expect from David Sloan and Chris Klieman’s new running backs?

James Gilbert says K-State running backs are ready to turn heads

James Gilbert says K-State running backs are ready to turn heads
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James Gilbert says K-State running backs are ready to turn heads

It’s time for another K-State Q&A.

Nothing worth ranting about at the top this week, so let’s dive right into your questions. Thanks, as always, for providing them.

As long as Jordon Brown and James Gilbert are healthy, they will both fit Courtney Messingham’s offense just fine.

Let’s be honest here: the Wildcats will need both of them, and a few freshmen running backs, to contribute next season. Chris Klieman and his offensive coordinator spread carries around like candy at North Dakota State. They don’t like to rely on a workhorse runner. They prefer a stable of backs.

The Bison asked five different players to carry the ball at least 82 times last season, but none more than 160. The Wildcats would prefer to do the same next season. Brown, who rushed for 1,005 yards at North Carolina, and Gilbert, who amassed 2,806 yards at Ball State, will lead the way by ideally both toting the rock 100-plus times next season.

Even then, expect K-State to get other running backs involved.

Brown and Gilbert should get the most action, but there will be a committee of ball-carriers.

I’m slightly more intrigued by Brown than Gilbert. He started 12 games at North Carolina and averaged 4.4 yards per run as a sophomore at a power-five school. He’s also a former four-star recruit. His ceiling seems a bit higher. Gilbert’s numbers were better at Ball State (he averaged 5.3 yards per run during his best season) and he was here for spring practice. But he didn’t exactly wow me in April. So I wouldn’t say he has a stranglehold on the starting job.

Not that it will be all that important of a position battle. K-State will need multiple running backs for Messingham’s offense to run all cylinders.

You’ve got to hand it to Klieman for his recruiting efforts at running back.

He didn’t inherit a single scholarship player at the position when he was hired, and six months later he has found six recruits that could help the Wildcats there next season. Most impressive of all, they all seem like they could be solid additions. He didn’t just hold a tryout and add six nobodies.

Graduate transfers are harder to find in football than basketball, so landing two veteran runners like Brown and Gilbert was big. Their experience will help tremendously.

Incoming freshmen Joe Ervin, Thomas Grayson, Clyde Price and Jacardia Wright are also on the way. Add in fullback Jax Dineen and walk-on Tyler Burns, and Klieman has at least created some depth in the backfield.

I doubt any of them are as good as Alex Barnes. At least not right away. They might not even be as good as Justin Silmon next season. So the position is still a big question mark. But things could be a whole lot worse.

K-State QB Skylar Thompson says he has made big strides in spring practice

I would certainly advise against betting money on the Wildcats to win the Big 12 in Chris Klieman’s first season, but a bowl game is on the table.

Even with all of K-State’s problems last season, they won five games and weren’t far away from winning three more.

Reaching a bowl game isn’t a high bar to clear. A 5-7 record is sometimes all it takes.

Still, winning six games to achieve traditional bowl eligibility will be a challenge. An early road game against Mississippi State will make it hard for K-State to enter conference play 3-0. And I’m not sure there is an automatic victory waiting for the Wildcats in the Big 12. Maybe Kansas, but that game went down to the wire in Manhattan last season. Iowa State isn’t imploding against them anymore, either.

On the other hand, Oklahoma and Texas look like the only certain Big 12 losses. So if Skylar Thompson gets cooking and the defense improves there is a path to seven or eight victories.

I’m not sure what to expect from Klieman in Year 1. There are many possibilities.

You’re right, no returning K-State football player is a stone-cold lock to be drafted in 2020. The draft streak could be in danger.

But there are a handful of guys that could keep it alive.

Left tackle Scott Frantz is probably the most likely candidate. He has three years of starting experience for the Wildcats and could make the jump to the NFL with a strong senior year. Denzel Goolsby also seems to have some draft potential as a defensive back. Trey Dishon and Reggie Walker will also be on the radar.

Maybe someone like Nick Kaltmayer could shine at right tackle this season and join the conversation. Same goes for Isaiah Zuber.

Any of them could sneak into the draft as a late-round pick like Duke Shelley this year. It’s hard to project right now, but it seems unlikely anyone will follow in Dalton Risner’s footsteps as an early selection.

Bruce Weber draws inspiration from Texas Tech's Final Four run

First, a few thoughts on David Sloan: I like him and think he will be a much better basketball player for K-State than Bruce Weber’s recent string of junior-college busts. Sloan was a top 100 recruit coming out of high school and only ended up in junior college because he got transfer happy as a senior and took some courses that didn’t end up counting toward NCAA eligibility.

He seems like a good kid with serious skills as a point guard. He averaged 9.5 assists last season at John A. Logan Community College and had as many as 19 in single games. That’s a lot of dimes. And he’s a decent scorer.

Here’s the feature story I wrote about this journey from Louisville to junior college and eventually K-State. Hope you read it.

Where does he factor into the rotation next season? That remains to be seen.

For now, I will give the edge to Shaun-Neal Williams. The sophomore point guard has lots of talent and he has already spent a year in Weber’s system. If he can resist the urge to jack up shots early into possessions and learn how to play some defense, he probably will have the upper hand over a junior-college transfer. At least at first.

Sloan vs. Neal Williams should be a fascinating position battle next preseason, though. They are both true point guards who could help K-State in myriad ways.

But the starting lineup depends on several factors, including who Weber finds to play power forward next season. It doesn’t seem like they are going to get a graduate transfer to step into Dean Wade’s shoes, the way Weber hoped. Will K-State slide Xavier Sneed into that role and go small? In that scenario, there is definitely room for Sloan/Neal-Williams to start alongside Cartier Diarra and Mike McGuirl/DaJuan Gordon.

But if K-State goes big and plays Levi Stockard or Montavious Murphy at the four, Sneed will slide back to small forward and there will only be two guard spots to fill. Do they devote one of them to a true point guard or do they go with two combo guards? If Gordon is as good as advertised, the Wildcats are going to want to get him on the floor even if it means playing without a pass-first guard at the one.

Not sure how that will play out.

You can write Makol Mawien, Diarra and Sneed into the starting five right now. The other two spots are wide open.

The odds favor Bruce Weber. If both coaches meet preseason expectations, the basketball team will have a better year than the football team.

Weber returns three starters and has a promising recruiting class coming in. The Wildcats should be back in the NCAA Tournament.

There is more uncertainty with the football team. Klieman could do a heck of a job coaching and the team could end up 4-8.

Of course, it wouldn’t take all that much for Klieman to boost his approval rating. A bowl game would probably appease most fans in Year 1. Expectations are higher for basketball.

Bruce Weber talks about Xavier Sneed's NBA Draft decision

Anything Game of Thrones.

I never got into the show, but I feel like I know the plot like a die-hard fan based on the memes that flood Twitter every Sunday night. I don’t want to know any more about Arya Stark or the Night King.

The crying Jordan is also tired.

One meme I noticed for the first time recently that made me laugh: Titanic filmed in a pothole. Feel like that applies to most roads in Manhattan right now.

This question was so good I couldn’t narrow it down to one answer. So here are a handful of position changes I would love to see in an alternate universe.

Morgan Burns.

Old position: defensive back.

New position: receiver.

The guy was so fast and an electric return man. It would have been fun to watch him catching passes instead of breaking them up.

Daniel Thomas.

Old position: running back.

New position: linebacker.

Thomas was an excellent running back for the Wildcats during a time when they didn’t have many other offensive weapons. But his size would have translated well to defense.

Tanner Wood.

Old position: defensive end.

New position: running back.

He holds the Kansas high school record for rushing yards in a game. Anyone who can rush for 659 yards in a game, regardless of the competition, deserves a shot to play offense in college.

Martin Gramatica.

Old position: kicker.

New position: receiver.

Can you imagine Gramatica lining up at slot receiver and catching a touchdown pass? Video of his celebration would go viral.

Terence Newman.

Old position: defensive back.

New position: You name it.

That guy could do it all. K-State probably would have won games with him at quarterback, receiver or running back. Maybe offensive line is a reach, but that’s about it.

Cornelius Lucas.

Old position: Offensive line.

New position: safety.

You could only use him in Hail Mary situations, but at 6-foot-9 it would be practically impossible to beat him for a jump ball.

Basketball games at Ahearn Fieldhouse would be awesome and the perfect venue for Throwback Day, but it’s not going to happen.

K-State looked at renovating the old building before Gene Taylor unveiled his facility master plan last year, and the price tag was astronomical. There is also no parking around Ahearn, so even if K-State paid to make the place feel new again it would be a chore for anyone other than students to get there for games.

There’s a reason volleyball is looking to abandon the arena and play in a new structure next to Bramlage Coliseum in the near future. It’s old and in a bad location. Maybe K-State could hold some type of preseason basketball event there for nostalgia sake, but that’s about it.

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