On Tuesday, Kansas State began spring football as they officially begin preparation for the 2023 season — a year they’ll look to defend their first Big 12 conference title in a decade.
The Wildcats return many key pieces from last season’s team, but the biggest return might be offensive coordinator Collin Klein, who was connected to the available offensive coordinating position at Notre Dame this winter.
“Everybody, when you have success, gets opportunities,” Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman said on Tuesday of Klien’s interviewing for the Notre Dame job. “We had a number of guys who had opportunities.”
Klein has spent just one season in the position at Kansas State, but he’s been on the coaching staff since 2017 when he was the quarterbacks’ coach under previous head coach Bill Snyder. Klien played quarterback at Kansas State and helped lead the 2012 team to the Big 12 title — the same season Klien was a Heisman Trophy finalist.
“I think at this time in his life, for CK, we talked, we have unfinished business here,” Klieman said. “And what a great opportunity he had to go on an interview. …. I think the right thing for him to stay at K-State right now. We talked about having a lot of people returning, as well as new players coming in. We have some unfinished business.”
Klieman was forced to replace one member from last season’s coaching staff though with Thad Ward leaving the program after just one season as the wide receivers coach to coach running backs at Illinois, a position he held at Illinois under previous head coach Lovie Smith.
Replacing Ward is a first-time Power 5 coach, Matthew Middleton. Middleton comes to K-State after previously coaching receivers at Kent State from 2018-22. Kansas State offensive line coach Conor Riley knew Middleton from Nebraska-Omaha — where Middleton coached in 2009-10 — and that helped bring the young coach to K-State.
“A number of coaches that we had visited with spoke really highly of Matthew and his ability to teach, his ability to build relationships, his ability to recruit,” Klieman said. “Interviewed a handful of guys, Collin did. Just thought it was the right fit.”
Middleton has been officially with the program for less than a month, but he impressed Klieman in his first practice with the team on Monday.
“He’s got great energy, does a really good job of connecting with the players,” Klieman said. “So I’m excited to be able to add Matthew.”
This spring Kansas State is expecting to be without several players, and the Wildcats are especially thin at defensive end and tight end, Klieman said on Tuesday.Ben Sinnott, who was one of the Wildcats’ best pass catchers near the end of last season, will miss the spring after undergoing an unspecified surgery. Last season, Sinnott caught 31 passes for 447 yards and four touchdowns, including a pair of touchdowns in the blowout win over Baylor. Swanson and Garrett Oakley are expected to receive a bigger opportunity this spring.
Kansas State is also thin at running back to start spring practices. Florida State transfer running back Treshaun Ward isn’t respected to be available for a couple of weeks and returning tailback DJ Giddens is also recovering from an offseason surgery.
Ward comes to K-State after rushing for more than 600 yards last season as a Seminole, and he’s set to replace two-time All-American Deuce Vaughn who declared for the NFL Draft.
“When he was healthy,” Klieman said of Ward, “he was the main guy. And i know he had a terrific game against Oklahoma in the bowl game. Acceleration, the ability to run through arm tackles, the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. I thought he was an every down back. That gives us more and more options, depth that we have DJ and some of the other young guys.”
Safety Kobe Savage and offensive lineman Taylor Poitier both suffered season-ending injuries in 2022 and are progressing back to the field, but are not able to participate in practice yet.
Savage is running but is not able to cut or do any stringent agility work and Poitier has been cleared for individual work but not contact.
When Kansas State left Manhattan, Kan., for the Sugar Bowl in the end of January, Klieman didn’t expect linebacker and captain
to return to the team for another season in 2023.
Green played through the injury for much of last season but still had 3.5 tackles for loss in 2022 while playing in 13 games. The Wildcats also return inside linebacker, Austin Moore. Moore had 87 tackles last season or Kansas State, including 10 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks on the season.
“I think if you partner those two up from a leadership standpoint,” Klieman said, “We’re really lucky to have two inside linebackers who have played as much football as those two guys have. And have the respect of the team and coaches by how they conduct themselves, how they play, practice, prepare.”
Offensively, Kansas State returns five starting offensive linemen and quarterback Will Howard, who took starting duties late in the season after injuries derailed the one season Adrian Martinez had with Kansas State.”Having Will back is so important,” Klieman said. “Because when he comes into the room, everybody knows it. He kind of lights up the room, and is one of the guys in charge. But I also think having all of those offensive linemen back really helps Will Howard — and helps all of us.”
QUARTERBACK DEPTH CHART
With Howard returning, Kansas State knows who their quarterback is going to be in 2023, and that’s obviously a positive given that Howard flashed signs of being a potential NFL-caliber player last season while completing just under 60 percent of his passes for 1,633 yards and 15 touchdowns in just seven games.
But Kansas is looking to work through the depth chart to determine who his backup is going to be, and given that Kansas State has had to play their backup quarterback in each of the last three seasons, that’s an important role on the team.
“They got to learn from Will — and really learn from Rubes, he played a little bit,” Klieman said. “I think it’s a real healthy position right now and looking forward to the competition there.”
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