Running back is the one position this year where Kansas State will feel graduation and the loss of arguably on of the best RB's tp ever suit up in a Wildcat Uniform. Imperative to the style of offense the Cats run with the power running game is a featured back capable of running between the tackles and the Cats will be left to fill the void.
Gone is the great Darren Sproles whose class, desire and hard work will be missed both on and off the field. Nevertheless, Kansas State has some very talented backs that will be counted upon heavily this season. Fullback is one of the strongest positions on the team with two reliable and proven senior players. The two seniors fullbacks: Victor Mann and Ayo Saba, will provide powerful blocking for this years crop of Kansas State running backs. Another unsung position but one that is vital, the FB is counted on to pave the way for the backs and open holes.
Saba who is no stranger to the Cat offense has had plently of time in the system and many look for him to take the reins this year. Is he ready? Can he finally put all the talent together? Those are the questions that remain unanswered but the clock is ticking on Saba and he needs to elevate his game this year.
Should Saba or Mann not work out, the coaching staff has brought in other players who will look to unlodge the current FB's for playing time and raise the competition level at the position.
As for Running Back, Junior Thomas Clayton steps into the hot seat as the candidate for the No. 1 running back position. Clayton, who sat out one season under NCAA transfer guidelines after coming to Kansas State following his freshman year at Florida State, will have to show the talent this spring that brought him to Manhattan. Both the potential and the speed Clayton possesses is something that has Wildcat fans excited since he came to the Little Apple and this Spring it will be essential that Clayton step up and take over.
Last season Clayton had 15 carries for 71 yards and a 4.7 average per carry. The biggest question mark however is not Clayton's talent but is he durable enough or ready to carry the ball 20-25 times if needed? He'll be the back that other teams focus on to stop and to this point Clayton hasn't carried the ball very many times in college. There is little doubt that Clayton will be exciting and the progress he shows from the spring game throughout the 2005 season could play a huge part in the success of the Wildcat offense.
The other candidates for time at the running back position include senior to be Carlos Alsup. This 6-1 210 lb back looked solid in last years spring game and was expected to challenge for the No. 2 back after coming back from injuries that cost him all but two games of his sophomore season. Alsup, should prove to be a solid back up for Clayton this season and there are those who hold out that he will be able to put it all together and compete with Clayton for the #1 spot. This spring will be very telling in regards to who is able to stay healthy and put it all together- as the position is wide ipen and up for grabs.
Also in the mix will be Donnie Anders out of Salina, Kansas. Anders only carried the ball 3 times in 2004 but should see more action in the coming season in what should shape up to be a good battle for the No. 2 running back spot. Anders is somewhat in an enigma in what he is capable of doing but his performance this April will solidify his role on this Wildcat team. It is either step up or be relegated to the wings for Anders. He must find a way to show the coaches he is ready to provide solid minutes.
Full back is more clear with the reliable and solid Victor Mann going into the season as the No. 1 fullback. Mann played in all 11 games for K-State last season and does so many thing for the Wildcats that doesn't show up on the stat sheet. A player with excellent hands Mann always brings a workman like effort and can run and block with power. Mann should once again be a solid choice for post season honors but the feeling is that the coaching staff wants better production from the FB position and has brought in other players to compete.
Ayo Saba also saw action in all 11 games last year and whatever his role ultimately is after spring, he should still see his share of snaps in the fall. Saba is a player that would most likely be starting anywhere else in the country and has shown glimpses, the Fiesta Bowl for example. A powerful runner especially in the short yardage situations, the 275 lb New Jersey native can also deliver jaw smashing blocks as well. Saba is going to be the No. 2 fullback this year barring injury to Mann, but he's a valuable part of the team and will get the call in crucial points of the game.
The newcomer is junior college transfer Jimmy Niutapuai out of Orange Coast College. At 6-0 and 265 lbs Niutapuai is a powerful runner who is known as a devastating blocker. There is not alot of pass catching from this FB recruit, his strength is his ability to open holes and put people on their backs and he loves contact. Jimmy's coach has described him as "the most feared FB on the west coast" and Jimmy is coming to Manhattan ready to compete. The book on Niutapuai reads a strong runner that was used mostly as a blocking back at Orange Coast, but who still was able to gain 43 yards on 14 carries. After signing day Jimmy made mention that the staff felt there needed to be an upgrade at the FB position and this is a recruit who could come in and play immediately. I am not sure what the other players are thinking but Jimmy thinks he is coming to contend for the starting job and is more then capable of doing just that.
In this year of transition following the Darren Sproles era, the cupboard is not bare in the backfield. Clayton seems to be the key this Spring and there is no doubt the young man has all the tools. Whether or not he can finally put it all together and effectively take the reins however is the issue at hand. In the wings are a cast of other capable backs who all need to show waht they can do this April. The Spring game is vital to them defining their roles on this team and raising the bar of competition. The Power running game is a main cog in Coach Snyder's offense and although no one will replace Darren Sproles- someone needs to illustrate they are capable and ready to assume his position.
Another huge factor in the success of Spring ball will be injuries and staying away from the injury bug. The Cats must emerge this spring with no injuries ans depth, although not a issue right now, could become one with a rash of injuries.
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