Kansas State Spring Game 2006: The Defense

There were a couple of different items that made their debut in the 2006 Kansas State Spring Football game but a good portion of those that attended, all 31,875 of them, for the most part spent their time focused in on only two items. First and rightly so, was new Head Football Coach Ron Prince. Under the watchful eye of Coach Prince, the Cats for the first time in modern history, "drafted" their teams and many came to watch the innovative debut of K-State's New Head Coach.

But also, those that came witnessed the log-jam at quarterback - which under a new offensive set and coach meant an all out, 5 man scramble to win the job that is starting Quarterback.

It seemed to me that for the first time in a long time, there wasn't a ton of attention this year focused on the defensive side of the football. This year's defensive squad will be a collective unit, without a true college superstar dotting the roster as the headliner but rather a unit chock full of talented, dedicated players. This is a well-experienced group that has been mixed in with some talented newcomers long on potential and looking for a opportunity to break into the two deep. This year's squad has both talent and depth and only needs a few pieces like Defensive End to Fall into place to make this group a rather deep squad with the potential to be a very, very good. The 2006 edition of the Wildcat Defense made its debut as the White Squad edged out the Purple, 21-14 at newly named Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

The one thing that hurt last year's squad on numerous occasions was a simple case of inexperience and depth at certain position that forced the Cats to play younger players at times. This is not an excuse that will hold water this season, this unit will need to take that next step for "The Cats" and new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, to sustain any chance at a Bowl game or be in the running for the Big 12 Championship.

They say defense wins championships and Raheem Morris clearly has the talent to work with in the short term to put a very good Wildcat defense on the field. What is lacking at this point however is depth at certain positions and a need for some of the older guys to take the new players under their wing and help them settle into the defense. Learning a new defense and wrinkles is also a challenge, a welcome one however after talking to the players following the game.

Like any scrimmage, there were both bright spots and some questions that remained unanswered. There was a spirit and determination out there that isn't always evident in your normal spring game and one that certainly will not make the box score. For Wildcat fans looking for positives, the team spirit and desire to move on from last season and a new staff is very evident, even to the casual observer. The excitement surrounding this team and the start of the Ron Prince Era was all around and if indications of fan support are to be read ass signs of future success, Coach Ron Prince is off to a very successful start.

Innovation. This is not your same old Spring Game with Coach Prince adding his own mark right off the bat with a "drafting" of players to form the Purple and White Squads. For those fans wanting to know who started off the draft, Zach Diles was the No. 1 selection Thursday in the K- State Purple-White spring game draft, an honor earned this past year.

Diles, a senior linebacker who transferred in last year as a junior and played his way into the rotation the very first game of the season, was third on the team last season in tackles. That's even more impressive considering he didn't start a game last season. The hard hitting Diles was voted by the player to be a Co- team captain on defense and finished with 6 total tackles in the spring game. Following the game, Diles showed he was pleased with his performance but like any good player will tell you, there is always room for improvement.

"I think I did alright," said Diles. "I could improve on my pass-drop a little, but I think overall I did OK. This is a good start and this year's defense will be flying all over the field running and hitting, next year is gonna be crazy."

One of the real consistent performers of the defense last year was defensive tackle Blake Seiler. This talented senior showed versatility and was often played at both D-tackle and D-end during the game - which doesn't seem to bother this hard working player who just wants to win. If there is another theme developing under Coach Prince, it is team unity and the desire to be successful.

"I don't really care as long as I'm out there and helping my team. I like them both," said Seiler. "I thought I played pretty well, but I had a couple of opportunities to get a couple of tackles for a loss that I missed, but not too bad."

Coach Morris has brought a new defense with him from Tampa Bay and although how much he is wanting to change the defense he has inherited is still not answered, there were new schemes and wrinkles on display. Two players who seem to be catching on quickly to the new schemes on defense are defensive backs Justin McKinney and Kyle Williams. Both of these two extremely talented player had their moments on Saturday and demonstrated the type of ball-hawking skills that will be essential for the Cats in order to play a smothering style of defense. Williams, a senior will clearly be looked to heavily to lead the younger group of players and set the tone.

Just as there were positives, there still remain question marks, such as the defensive line and who wills tep up to take the leadership role in the trenches. One of the biggest questions (no pun intended) is that of senior defensive tackle Quinton Echols, who looked sharp and in better shape at this time then in any other time in his career at K-State.

His sharp play resulted in 3 tackles along with a sack and Echols played disruptive defense and blew up blocking assignments all night long.. Echols experience and ability to stay in shape will go a long way in determining just how good and effective the defensive line will be and what type of wrinkles Coach Morris will be afforded to install. Winning the battle along the defensive line is paramount if the Cats are to play a blitzing pressure style defense that forces play rather then reacts.

One of the glaring weaknesses of last year's defense was their lack of opportunistic play as a squad overall. Many times games hung in the balance and for those fans reading this, they turned to a friend or relative and said, "we need a big stop," or "we need a turnover." Saturday's defensive performance gave everyone hope that this years team would be different in that respect. Cornerback Bryan Baldwin, and linebacker Greg Gaskins each picked off passes and the defense recovered two fumbles in the game.

Whatever different pieces align this year, this defense must be opportunistic and force big game changing plays. This squad must force turnovers and put the offense in a position to score- something not lost on the players.

"I was just making sure to hold onto it and not fumble it," said Gaskins. "I knew that it was going to be a big play and help us win the game and that's all I was thinking about at the time."

"I just stepped in front of Yamon and picked it off, "said Baldwin. "As a defense we've all worked very hard in spring practices, and overall I think we came out and played pretty good. I know myself and the rest of my teammates are ready to take K-State to the next level."

One of the players that could be an interesting contributor to the defensive line is red-shirt freshman Eric Childs. This is a player with tremendous speed and athletic ability, who could be the pass rushing specialist Ron Prince is looking for to step up and come off the edge.

Childs wound up the game with 3 tackles, but at 225 pounds, Childs is still a little undersized for Rush End and at this point can only be counted on to be a positional player. Whether this potentially valuable player earns a spot on the depth chart of the Wildcats in the fall is yet to be determined, but Childs need spend some time in the weight room and at the training table this off-season and be ready for play in the physical Big 12 in the fall.

All in all this outing proved itself significant in many ways. The K-State fans came out in droves in support of a new ear of Wildcat Football and there is a new excitement that surrounds the program. But like all scrimmages, if a team scores they scored on your defense and if they could not score, then the offense misfired. There is no perfect balance. The spring practice game is exactly that - practice. There were some players on defense that looked ready to go and put the proud tradition of Kansas State defenses of the past back on the college football map in Manhattan.

I was encouraged by what I saw by certain parts of the defense and the Wildcats over all as a team on both squads. There is talent and there are those who can step up to assume to roles of leadership that is needed.

For those who suited up and those yet to report, the basic tools of a solid defense are in place. Depth at certain areas must be solidified as there are always injuries in a season. Past that however, the direction of the team is very positive and there is much to be happy about. Coach Morris is clearly already making an impression on the players and installing his style and brand of defense.

This fall will see new players step on campus and the blending of these players with those current on campus will afford Coach Morris many new tools with which to assemble the defense he desires. With what I saw on Saturday, this defense looks ahead of where it was last year and there is a large amount of promise on this squad.

The 31,875 fans who attended the game witnessed the excitement that shrouds the program as well as a great deal of enthusiasm. The players have bought into the excitement the coaching staff exudes and it is carrying over to the players themselves.

Off to a great start, New Head Coach Ron Prince has the entire "Cat Nation" and the players excited for fall football and the possible return to prominence. Only time will tell but this was certainly a good beginning for the Wildcats.

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