Kansas State University

Five things to watch as K-State begins spring football practice under Chris Klieman

The Kansas State football team will hold its first spring practice under new coach Chris Klieman on Wednesday.

Here are five things to watch as the Wildcats build toward their Spring Showcase at 1 p.m. April 13 in Snyder Family Stadium:

Brand new backfield

All eyes will be on K-State’s running backs this spring as the Wildcats look to replace unprecedented losses in the backfield.

Alex Barnes is off to the NFL while Justin Silmon and Dalvin Warmack are out of eligibility. Add on Mike McCoy’s decision to retire because of a spinal condition and Klieman doesn’t inherit a single scholarship running back.

James Gilbert is the man most expect to lead the way next season. If he doesn’t dominate in spring practices, something is wrong. Gilbert joined the Wildcats this semester as a graduate transfer from Ball State. He had some strong seasons there and rushed for 2,806 yards, but had a bit of a disappointing junior year.

Gilbert is looking for a new start, and K-State is happy to give him one. Klieman made him a priority during the recruiting process and he should lead the Wildcats in carries next season as incoming freshmen look to add versatility and depth to the position.

Three other names to be aware of during spring practices: Cornelius Ruff, Harry Trotter and Tyler Burns. Ruff is K-State’s top returning running back, Trotter is a Lousiville transfer and Burns will look to add speed to the position now that he has re-joined the team after a one-year hiatus.

Who will backup Skylar Thompson at QB?

K-State’s new coaching staff hasn’t promised starting jobs to any returning players, but it seems like a foregone conclusion that Skylar Thompson will open the Klieman era as QB1.

Thompson ended his sophomore season in strong fashion and was quick to embrace Klieman when he was hired. The coaches view him as a leader and aren’t looking to shake things up behind center at this time.

But the backup spot seems wide open.

John Holcombe was close to seeing action as a freshman and seems capable of filling in as Thompson’s backup now that Alex Delton is at TCU. But Holcombe will face stiff competition from Sammy Wheeler, Jaren Lewis and incoming freshman Chris Herron.

That position battle will be worth monitoring in the spring and beyond.

New coach, new approach

We have already seen Chris Klieman begin to place his stamp on the K-State football team away from the field by embracing social media and expanding access to the program for reporters in ways that former coach Bill Snyder never did.

But this will be our first look at how he conducts business on the gridiron.

Will his spring schedule be more or less demanding than what players have grown accustomed to under Snyder? We’re about to find out.

Next man up in the secondary

It will be interesting to see who steps up into starting positions within K-State’s secondary this spring.

Kendall Adams and Eli Walker are gone at safety. So is Duke Shelley at corner. Those are some big names to lose, even with Denzel Goolsby returning to lead the group.

A group of up-and-coming players seem poised to replace them, including Lance Robinson, Johnathan Durham, Kevion McGee, A.J. Parker, Darreyl Patterson, Brock Monty and Walter Neil.

Many of those players saw action last season, but they will get opportunities to expand their roles starting this spring.

How good is Hunter Rison?

Everyone has said good things about Hunter Rison since he arrived on campus. Now we finally get to see how much of an impact he might make at receiver next season.

The Michigan State transfer, and son of former NFL star Andre Rison, will be one of the hottest names in K-State spring practices.

The Wildcats could use another talented route-runner alongside Isaiah Zuber, Malik Knowles and Dalton Schoen. He seems to fit the bill. But he hasn’t shown off his skills in a public setting since leaving the Spartans and sitting out a year per NCAA transfer rules. Now that he is eligible to play, he can show off his stuff. Many fans will be watching.

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Kellis Robinett covers Kansas State athletics for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. A winner of more than a dozen national writing awards, he lives in Manhattan with his wife and three children.