Bill Snyder breaks down K-State QBs Alex Delton, Skylar Thompson
Remember when Collin Klein started 26 consecutive games at quarterback for the Kansas State football team?
It happened just six years ago, not that long in the grand scheme of things, yet it feels like an eternity to some K-State fans.
Not because the Wildcats have been unable to duplicate Klein’s accolades (Heisman Trophy finalist and Johnny Unitas Award winner) or successes (21 victories and a Big 12 championship) since his eligibility expired in 2012, but because none of K-State’s subsequent quarterbacks have been able to match his durability.
K-State has started six different quarterbacks over the past five seasons and played two more in meaningful situations, including a redshirt freshman, a high school backup and a converted receiver. The injuries that thrust some of them into action are almost too many to name. Jesse Ertz twice suffered season-ending knee injuries and once played with a seriously injured shoulder. Alex Delton lost out on his freshman season because of a knee injury and missed four games last year because of concussions. Jake Waters needed shoulder surgery at the end of his senior year.
The days of Klein running 317 times in a season (a school record) without a single major injury are long gone.
“I think, honestly, the Lord protected me,” Klein says now. “It was a long two seasons, for sure, with lots of bumps and bruises. But I was very blessed to never have anything significant enough to keep me out.”
What has changed over the past six years?
Some say the Wildcats ask too much from their quarterbacks in the running game. For example: Skylar Thompson, Ertz and Delton combined for 234 rushing attempts last season, while the rest of the team combined for 279. At one point, all three were injured and Hunter Hall saw action against Oklahoma State. More passes and fewer QB keepers would keep them healthy, so goes the thinking.
Others argue they need to learn how to slide and avoid big hits. Or maybe it’s just bad luck.
Klein, now K-State’s quarterbacks coach, doesn’t have a definitive answer.
“Some of it is just kind of freaky,” Klein said. “We ask our guys to run and they do carry the ball at times, but, last year when I go back and look, all the plays they got hurt on were pass plays. Sometimes things just happen kind of funky. That’s why my message to my group is that everyone needs to be ready at any point, because you never know what is going to happen. You have got to prepare like you are the starter. I tell my freshmen that so they start preparing.”
The quarterback competition between Delton and Thompson remains too close to call, but if recent trends continue, it’s a safe bet both passers will be needed at various times throughout the upcoming season.
It doesn’t sound like new offensive coordinator Andre Coleman is ready to abandon K-State quarterbacks as running options.
“That won’t change,” Coleman said. “We will definitely run the quarterback. I’m not going to say we are going to run him 30 times, but we are definitely going to run the quarterback.”
Delton led the way in QB carries last season with 100. His highlights included 142 yards and three touchdowns against Oklahoma and 158 yards and three touchdowns against UCLA in the Cactus Bowl. He is a better runner than a passer. Though he would like to show off his arm more this year, he isn’t ready to stop making plays with his feet.
At Big 12 media days, he was asked if he planned to change his playing style after two concussions as a sophomore. His answer: no.
“Head injuries, obviously, they are part of the game,” Delton said. “Not all of us go through it, but you are aware of the situation. I would not say it restricts my game in any way. I am still going to run aggressively and I am still going to run hard for extra yardage. To salvage the quarterback, sometimes you run out of bounds or maybe you slide, but, to be honest with you, that’s not really my playing style. I don’t think Coach Klein has a problem with me fighting for a few extra yards.
“Coach Klein was a bruiser at quarterback. I feel like he would appreciate my style.”
Still, it wasn’t easy for Klein to start 26 consecutive games as an upperclassman. He went weeks without practicing as a junior and missed the fourth quarter of one game as a senior because of concussion-like symptoms. His entire body ached after a four-overtime victory against Texas A&M.
He was as much a workhorse runner as he was a brilliant passer.
Klein isn’t quite sure why he avoided injuries and others have not. But he’s trying his best to pass on some answers to the quarterbacks he is now tasked with coaching.
“You’ve got to be smart, but you have got to play hard,” Klein said. “That’s the biggest thing for me, playing as hard as you possibly can to the whistle. That’s really all you can do, because it happens so fast out there sometimes that if you are trying to protect yourself, you can end up getting hurt even worse.”