One of the most competitive position battles of preseason camp is beginning to gain clarity at Kansas State.
Jahron McPherson is the new favorite to start at nickelback when the Wildcats open the football season against Nicholls on Aug. 31.
K-State coaches have tried a handful of players this month at that particular defensive position, which requires both the coverage skills of a corner and the tackling abilities of a linebacker. Two weeks ago, Johnathan Durham was the projected starter. Then Jonathan Alexander got a look. But it now seems that McPherson has risen above the pack.
“He is a really good player in man technique, which is something at our nickel spot that we do and is very important,” K-State safeties coach Joe Klanderman said on Monday. “He is a really slippery blitzer and he really understands what we are doing ... Great communicator ... Total package.”
Things could change with nearly two weeks remaining before the Wildcats take the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, but K-State players are running out of time to earn spotting spots and cement themselves as backups.
With that in mind, here is a look at what K-State’s depth chart might look when Chris Klieman unveils it next week.
Starter: Skylar Thompson.
Backup: Nick Ast.
There hasn’t been a hint of a quarterback controversy in Manhattan since Thompson finished his sophomore season with two strong games and Alex Delton transferred to TCU. Thompson will lead the way as K-State’s starter this year. It remains unclear who will serve as his primary backup, but here’s guessing Ast edges out John Holcombe by the end of the month. Holcombe is the more physically gifted player, but coaches have had more praise for Ast, a walk-on sophomore from Cimarron.
Starter: James Gilbert.
Backups: Jordon Brown, Harry Trotter.
Offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham said last week that Gilbert understands the ins and outs of K-State’s backfield so well that he could coach the position. That gives the Ball State graduate transfer a slight edge over his teammates. But the Wildcats want to utilize a committee of running backs this season. Fans will also see lots of Brown and Trotter, regardless of who starts. Freshman Joe Ervin should also get some looks.
Starters: Dalton Schoen, Wykeen Gill, Malik Knowles.
Backups: Landry Weber, Chabastin Taylor, Phillip Brooks.
Schoen, as the lone senior of the group, is a no-brainer to lead this unit. Gill and Knowles spent most of their time alongside him in three-receiver formations during practice. That seems like a logical starting trio. It will be interesting to see who provides depth behind them. Brooks, Taylor and Weber all have experience, but it’s likely only a matter of time until Joshua Youngblood (the most hyped freshman on the roster) and Chris Herron (a converted quarterback) catch up. Both should see meaningful action this season.
Starter: Nick Lenners.
Backups: Sammy Wheeler or Blaise Gammon.
Lenners is ready to show what he can do after missing all but one game with an injury last season. Wheeler, a converted quarterback, and Gammon seem like the most logical options to complement him. Many tight ends will see time in Chris Klieman’s new offense.
Starter: Mason Barta.
Backup: Jax Dineen.
Until Adam Harter gets healthy, the Wildcats will probably turn to Barta and Dineen for their fullback needs. But K-State likes to use tight ends and fullbacks interchangeably, so they could ask their tight ends to help here, too.
Starers: Scott Frantz (LT), Josh Rivas (LG), Adam Holtorf (C), Tyler Mitchell (RG), Nick Kaltmayer (RT).
Backups: Christian Duffie (LT), Evan Curl (LG), Noah Johnson (C), Ben Adler (RG), Kaitori Leveston (RT).
K-State’s offensive line might not be set at left guard, as Curl and Rivas continue to compete for the starting role. But Rivas seems to have a slight edge there. Coaches have said they will find a way to get Johnson on the field this season, helping at center or guard.
Starters: Wyatt Hubert (DE), Trey Dishon (DT), Joe Davies (DT), Reggie Walker (DE).
Backups: Kyle Ball (DE), Eli Huggins (DT), Jordan Mittie (DT), Bronson Massie (DE).
The only question here is who starts at tackle alongside Dishon. Let’s go with Davies for now, but both he and Mittie will see lots of action. Ball and Massie should also allow K-State coaches to rotate their edge rushers.
Starters: Elijah Sullivan, Da’Quan Patton.
Backups: Daniel Green, Cody Fletcher or Eric Gallon.
The Wildcats moved Sullivan to inside linebacker when Justin Hughes went down with a season-ending injury in the spring. He will play alongside Patton in the middle of K-State’s defense. But it’s unclear who will serve as their backups. Green, a former four-star recruit, has the talent to play this season. Fletcher has some valuable experience, but he is currently out with a foot injury. Gallon is ready to help as a senior. But this is one position where K-State can’t afford more injuries.
Starters: Wayne Jones, Denzel Goolsby, Jahron McPherson (NB).
Backups: Ross Elder, Jonathan Alexander, Johnathan Durham (NB).
Denzel Goolsby is the leader of this group, but he will get lots of help from Wayne Jones. Safeties coach Joe Klanderman says players already look to the redshirt freshman as a quarterback on defense.
Starters: A.J. Parker, Walter Neil.
Backups: Kevion McGee, Lance Robinson.
K-State coaches seem thrilled with their starters at this position, but they want to develop more depth as the season goes along. Look for Darreyl Patterson and Logan Wilson to also challenge for playing time, here.
Starters: Blake Lynch (K), Devin Anctil (P), Phillip Brooks (KR), Joshua Youngblood (PR).
Lynch and Anctil are both back to lead K-State’s special teams units this season. It seems like Brooks is line to handle most of the return work, but Youngblood and a few others will be ready to help.