Kansas State football players will report for the start of training camp on Thursday and begin practicing for the 2019 season on Friday.
Here is a look at the five most important things to watch as the Wildcats prepare for their first game under new coach Chris Klieman.
1. Who will emerge at running back?
This question is a bit harder to answer than it was when spring practice ended in April. Back then, it looked like Ball State transfer James Gilbert would lead a committee with walk-on Harry Trotter serving as the No. 2 option.
But now there are new faces in the backfield.
North Carolina transfer Jordon Brown joined the mix earlier this summer after rushing for 1,005 yards over three years with the Tar Heels, as did freshmen Clyde Price, Thomas Grayson and Joe Ervin.
Oh, and Klieman promoted Trotter to scholarship status.
There will be lots of competition here as the Wildcats look to replace Alex Barnes, Justin Silmon and Dalvin Warmack.
Klieman wouldn’t have it any other way. He liked to spread carries around at North Dakota State, and five different Bison players touched the ball at least 82 times last season. All indications are that he will use the same philosophy at K-State. So fans can expect Gilbert, Trotter, Brown and maybe Price to see significant action this season.
But who takes the lead? For now, Gilbert remains the favorite. He didn’t have an overly impressive spring, but it was good enough to give him a leg up on the rest of the group. He rushed for 2,806 yards at Ball State and has four years of college experience. Gilbert will try to build on that while Brown and Trotter also push for carries.
2. Please come in, we’re open
For the first time in at least 10 years, the K-State football team is opening up portions of preseason camp to the media.
Klieman will allow reporters to view portions of practice on Monday and then again on Aug. 19 before the Wildcats open their season against Nicholls on Aug. 31. In between, players and assistant coaches will regularly meet with media and provide updates from practice.
That’s a big change from the Bill Snyder era, in which preseason practices were closed and information was protected like gold in Fort Knox.
Klieman’s new media policy should lead to more preseason publicity for the team. Will there be any drawbacks? We’re about to find out.
3. Next man up at linebacker
K-State players and coaches have spoken highly of junior linebacker Elijah Sullivan throughout the summer. It seems like he is ready to fill in for injured teammate Justin Hughes and command the middle of K-State’s defense.
That’s good news for the Wildcats. But he’s the only sure thing at the position.
DaQuan Patton will likely start next to him after making 70 tackles last season, but his play left something to be desired as a junior. The Wildcats will look for improvement out of him as a senior.
Depth behind Patton is a big question mark. No other linebackers on the roster have significant college experience. Daniel Green, Cody Fletcher and Eric Gallon might not be in line to start this season, but injuries could change that. They will definitely be asked to provide depth. They can prove themselves during preseason practices.
4. New look at receiver
K-State lost a pair of potential starting receivers to transfers during the offseason, but you wouldn’t know that listening to the Wildcats talk about their returning talent at the position.
Klieman is high on senior Dalton Schoen, junior Wykeen Gill, sophomore Chabastin Taylor and redshirt freshman Malik Knowles. Add newcomer Joshua Youngblood to the mix, and this will be a fun group to monitor in August.
Still, these receivers will have much to prove. Schoen and Gill are former walk-ons. Taylor and Knowles don’t have much game experience.
They combined for 52 catches, 696 yards and five touchdowns last season. And Schoen (32 catches, 520 yards, two scores) was responsible for most of that production. K-State will need much more production from its receivers in 2019.
5. All eyes on Skylar Thompson
No one has talked a bigger game than Thompson since Klieman arrived in Manhattan as coach. He wants to put last season’s 5-7 record behind him and help K-State contend for a Big 12 championship this year.
If the Wildcats exceed expectations the journey will start with Thompson.
K-State quarterbacks traditionally make big leaps after they gain of a year of starting experience and return as the unquestioned leader on offense. That’s Thompson. He enters his junior year having started 14 games.
His numbers (173 of 291 for 2,080 yards and 14 touchdowns) have been on the pedestrian side, but he has led the Wildcats to some big wins. This is his opportunity to do that consistently.
The Wildcats will run a new offense this season, and Thompson thinks it suits him. He won’t be asked to run as much as he did last year, and if he makes the proper pre-snap reads he should have plenty of opportunities for big plays.
K-State lost playmakers at receiver and running back, but it should have improved play at quarterback.
North Dakota State won FCS championships behind current NFL quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Easton Stick. Is Thompson ready to follow in their footsteps?