Kansas State football players reported for the start of preseason training camp on Wednesday. The team will begin practice Thursday.
Here are a few things to watch as the Wildcats prepare for the upcoming season:
1. Will Jesse Ertz win K-State’s quarterback derby again?
All signs seemingly point to yes. Ertz started with the first-string offense in the spring, his teammates voted him a captain and K-State coach Bill Snyder asked him to represent the team at Big 12 Media Days. At the least, Ertz is the frontrunner.
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As center Dalton Risner pointed out last month: “He has such a big leadership role on the team that you just kind of assume he is already the starter.”
Still, Snyder insists Alex Delton and Joe Hubener will get a fair shot, explaining last month, that the Wildcats have three “No. 1” quarterbacks. Snyder says all three ended spring practice tied for the top spot and the best performer in August will win the job.
Hubener did look like an improved passer during the spring game, and he started 11 games last season. Perhaps that experience will aid him this month. Delton has athleticism few others can match, and appears eager to play after missing out on most of his first season because of a knee injury. Both will push for playing time.
But Ertz beat both by a wide margin a year ago, and he seemed poised for a breakout season until he tore an ACL in the opener. Odds favor him winning that job again now that he is healthy. But it will be a fascinating position battle. Given Ertz’s injury history (he also tore an ACL in high school) all three quarterbacks will need to be ready to play.
2. Upgrade at receiver
Junior-college transfer Byron Pringle was the star of K-State’s spring football game, routinely burning overmatched defenders for nine catches, 163 yards and a touchdown. Fans roared when he caught a pass from Hubener at midfield in the first half and outran everyone for a 73-yard score.
That type of explosive play was a rarity last season, as K-State threw for 14 touchdowns in 13 games. Could that change this season? With Pringle in the mix, there is hope.
Many expect an upgraded receiving corps this year. Pringle is the headliner, but redshirt freshmen Isaiah Zuber and Denzel Goolsby also appear ready to contribute. So does true freshman Corey Sutton, who made a nifty touchdown grab at the spring game.
A healthy Dominique Heath should also buoy the unit.
Deante Burton returns as a senior after leading the team with 38 receptions, 510 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns a year ago. He should be surrounded by a stronger supporting cast this season.
3. Filling holes on defense
The majority of K-State’s defense is back. The Wildcats return nine players with starting experience, including four that earned preseason all-conference honors (safety Dante Barnett, defensive tackle Will Geary, defensive end Jordan Willis and linebacker Elijah Lee). Given how strongly Duke Shelley and Kendall Adams finished last season at defensive back, and how good Charmeachealle Moore looked at linebacker, there are few position battles to speak of on this side of the ball.
The most important may come at cornerback. Cedric Dozier, a graduate transfer from California, was brought in this offseason to replace Morgan Burns and play opposite Shelley. But he may face competition from junior-college transfer D.J. Reed and redshirt freshman Johnathan Durham.
All three could also see time as a third corner in nickel formations.
K-State was abysmal against the pass last season, allowing 285.5 yards per game, and will need a quality corner in order to improve.
The other interesting position battle is at defensive tackle, where the Wildcats need to replace Travis Britz. Trey Dishon, Mitch Copeland and Craig Settles all saw time in the middle of K-State’s defensive line in the spring. They will compete for the top spot this summer. Tanner Wood or Reggie Walker should round out the defensive line at end.
4. Drive of five
Sophomore center Dalton Risner is back and ready to anchor K-State’s offensive line.
Which other four offensive linemen will join him up front? That is one of the most fascinating questions of the preseason.
K-State lost four starters from its offensive line last season, including standout left tackle Cody Whitehair. Replacing that much experience won’t be easy, but Scott Frantz, Will Ash, Terrale Johnson, Abdul Beecham, Reid Najvar, Alec Ruth and Breontae Matthews seem up for the task.
Johnson has experience at guard and appears ready to step into a starting role. Frantz, Ash and Beecham all showed their skills at the spring game. Matthews, a junior-college transfer, is the wild card of the group. He has the talent to factor in at one of the tackle positions.
Historically, K-State has done a nice job reloading its front five. Can it do the same this season?
5. Low expectations?
Will K-State reach a bowl game for a seventh straight season under Snyder?
Some oddsmakers and experts have their doubts.
Media picked the Wildcats to finish eighth in the preseason Big 12 poll, and Bovada set K-State’s over/under win total at 5.5.
K-State overcame myriad injuries and a six-game losing streak to finish the regular season 6-6 and reach the Liberty Bowl last season. The team has arguably improved on paper, but it faces a harder schedule that includes an opener at Stanford and five conference road games this year.
One thing is for sure: the Wildcats will be motivated to prove the preseason predictions wrong.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett