By RON PRESTON
Whoever wins the battle at the quarterback position for Kansas State will have the fortune of lining up behind an experienced and highly rated Big 12 offensive line.
The offensive line returns all but one starter from a year ago and is anchored by a former walk-on who has turned into a team leader, center B.J. Finney of Andale.
The junior two year letterman is also a team captain this season.
While defensive line coach Mo Latimore might be scratching at his head trying to fill in all the holes left from graduation, fifth year offensive line coach Charlie Dickey, at least on paper, has four of his five starters somewhat penciled in place.
“Everybody is competing. I want and I expect competition for all positions,” Coach Dickey said. “The thing that I have seen so far is the guys that should start are working exceptionally hard and they are pushing everyone else to be better, also.”
“If the season were starting today, I’d have senior Cornelius Lucas at left tackle, sophomore Cody Whitehair at left guard, Finney and then Tavon Rooks at right tackle,” Dickey said. “There is competition like I said for all spots, but for right guard it would probably come down to senior Keenan Taylor or sophomore Boston Stiverson to start.”
“I really like the players we have in our system,” he said. “Everyone is working hard and competing everyday and that depth is very important, especially in this conference.”
“Cody will start at left guard for us this year and, with his versatility of playing both guard and tackle positions for us last year, makes him even more valuable to us as a team,” Dickey said.
“I really like playing guard,” Whitehair said. “But I’ll play wherever the coach and the team needs me to play”
Whitehair, a freshman All-American from Abilene, also received honorable mention All-Big 12 honors from the league coaches last year.
He played in all 13 games last season and started 12 of them. Whitehair started last season as the right tackle before moving to left guard for nine straight starts, but because of his versatility he had to finish up the regular season at tackle due to injuries on the offensive line.
Whitehair’s versatility will help him accomplish his childhood dream.
“I want to play at the next level. I want to play on Sundays,” he said.
“We are just going to keep working hard every day,” Whitehair said. “That’s our main goal, to be the best, but we’ll take it day by day.”
Going into the fall camp the Wildcats will have as much depth on the offensive line as they have had in Dickey’s five years at K-State.
If you are Daniel Sams or Jake Waters, not only will you get to line up and call plays behind the outstanding offensive line but you will also have an arsenal of experienced sure - handed pass catchers to throw the ball to.
First year wide receivers coach Andre Coleman inherited a group of guys with speed and the ability to go deep to catch the long ball, if needed.
Coleman, a former Kansas State standout returned to his alma mater for the 2013 season to tutor the Wildcat wide receivers. A four-year letter winner at wide receiver under Bill Snyder from 1990-93, Coleman spent the last three seasons on head coach and former K-State offensive lineman Eric Wolford’s staff at Youngstown State. Coleman, who went on to have a successful five-year career in the NFL as a player, also became the first Wildcat football player to score a touchdown in a Super Bowl.
The Wildcats return senior Tramaine Thompson and junior Tyler Lockett at the receiver position as well as the return specialists for the team.
“The offense was pretty balanced last year, we were probably in the top 10 in yards per reception,” Coleman said. “So it’s not that the offense didn’t throw the ball last year and I think we have some talent in Tyler and Tramaine and we plan to exploit that talent to the best of our ability.”
Thompson is a speedy receiver that has been a playmaker on offense and special teams.
“Tremaine is a vital part of our offense. He does all of the little things. He is a competitor. He is tough. He is a kid that just makes plays. He worked hard throughout spring, he worked hard during the summer and he is doing well in camp, so when you do all of those things, it is not a surprise when you have success and I expect him to have some,” Coleman said.
Lockett is a quick and athletic all purpose player who is a dynamic kickoff returner and a threat at wide receiver. Lockett enters his junior campaign with a 33.8 yard average and four kickoff return touchdowns to rank second in school and Big 12 history in each category.
“Both of the quarterbacks can throw the ball really well, which really excites us as receivers,” junior receiver from Abilene Curry Sexton said. “I think it’s definitely going to open up some things and we have seen that a little bit in camp already.”
“Hitting the deep balls a little more and doing some things we haven’t done in the past and hopefully we can ignite some more big plays,” Sexton said. “We take what we can get and see where things go.”
“We have possession guys. We have guys that can stretch the field. It’s just a matter of the right situation to be successful,” Coleman said.
“These kids are good kids. They work hard and set the tone for the younger receivers to show them what it is all about,” he added.
“Tremaine and Tyler have made a ton of plays in their careers here and Torell Miller has been out there a lot and has made some big improvement since last season,” Sexton said.
“Kyle Klein, Stanton Weber, Judah Jones, Deante Burton are some young guys that have really come on in camp and the list just goes on and on,” he said.
“We have 15 guys in camp right now and all 15 have done well. Everybody’s making plays,” Sexton said. “As long as everybody keeps improving, we are going to see some great things out of the receivers.”
When comparing the coaching of Coleman and long time assistant coach Michael Smith, Sexton said, “Coach Coleman is kind of taking us back to our fundamentals more.”
“When he got here, he told us our fundamentals were a little out of whack and so we have been working on that,” Sexton said.
“My philosophy is we don’t play an X, Y, Z or R receiver. We play the best we have and they all have to be able to play all positions available, so it is just the matter of finding the top six or seven guys, so that is what we have been doing,” coach Coleman said.
“There are some guys that are obviously in a little better position because of the experience playing already,” he said. “Not only speaking of Tyler and Tramaine, but Curry Sexton has some experience playing, but all these guys are competing.”
“We’ve only had a few practices in and we have a lot of guys out there competing and that’s only going to make us better,” Sexton said. “Competing against each other is only going to push us.”