Kansas State's defense made a vast improvement from 2008 to 2009, but the question is can another stride be taken in 2010 under coordinator Chris Cosh. Up to seven starters return on defense, but there are concerns at linebacker and on the corners heading into Saturday's 2:30 matchup with UCLA at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
There's strength in deep centerfield, but iffy areas in right and left field, so to speak; at first and third, play looks solid at the ends, but there are questions up the middle.
Yes, Kansas State's defense is a work in progress heading into the Sept. 4 opener with UCLA at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Here's a look at the Wildcats projected two-deep heading into Saturday's opener.
PRIZELL BROWN, 6-2, 265, Sr
RAY KIBBLE, 6-4, 296, Soph
Raphael Guidry, 6-4, 279, Jr P
ayton Kirk, 6-5, 262, Jr
Prizell Brown is the most versatile of the interior linemen having made the move from defensive end to tackle last year.
"Inside is a good fit for him," said coach Mo Latimore. "Each game last year we saw improvement. He's an athletic kid who can move."
While Brown can go get'em, Ray Kibble is a mammoth 296-pound sophomore, who transferred from Navarro Junior College. Someone, Latimore says, "… gives us great size and great strength." Vying for a starting job is part-time returning starter Raphael Guidry.
BRANDON HAROLD, 6-5, 264, Jr
ANTONIO FELDER, 6-2, 244, Sr
Kadero Terrell, 6-1, 242, Jr
Jordan Voelker, 6-3, 244, Jr
In the K-State camp one side is simply a defensive end, and the other is a "Bandit." A huge plus to K-State's defense in 2010 is the return of Brandon Harold, who was a freshman all-American in 2008 when he had 10.5 tackles for losses.
"He hasn't been on the field for a while, so we hope he can fall back on some of that experience of two years ago," said coach Joe Bob Clements. "He has a long, tall body, has some strength and is just an overall athletic kid, who has a high ceiling he can reach."
While Harold will focus on stopping the run, the "Bandit" position will also charge the quarterback with that duty falling on the shoulders of Antonio Felder.
"He has a lot of experience, and at the end of last year was probably our most consistent performer besides (Jeffry) Fitzgerald," said Clements.
WILL – JARELL CHILDS, 6-1, 225, Soph
Blake Slaughter, 5-10, 225, Soph
MIKE – ALEX HREBEC, 5-11, 251, Jr
Tre Walker, 6-3, 205, Fr
Kevin Rohleder, 6-0, 219, Sr
STRONG SAFETY/HYBRID – TROY BUTLER, 6-0, 194, Sr
Thomas Ferguson, 5-11, 204, Soph
If there's a concern area, it's at linebacker. Jarell Childs is making the move from running back where he played last year. A tough move in some ways, but linebacker coach Chris Cosh says, "He was a running back who tried to make people miss him, and now he's on defense where he's trying to make blockers miss him. It's the same hole where you look to open when on offense, but looking to fill on defense. He has the skill set and the vision to become a good one."
Alex Hrebec has played in 23 Wildcat games and has totaled 100 tackles.
"Alex has good intensity and is a tough guy," scouted Cosh. "He's not really special at anything, but he's really good at a lot of things. Plus, he's played a lot of snaps for us. He's a kid that plays with great intensity."
Blake Slaughter provides depth at both positions. K-State's third linebacker is a position that Cosh calls a "hybrid" between a linebacker and strong safety.
Troy Butler opened camp at the position, but has also played some cornerback.
Stephen Harrison appears to have one position locked up, but the other is in limbo with Terrance Sweeney and David Garrett having the most experience having played in each game last year. Sweeney is believed to be the fastest Wildcat of them all with a 40-time in the 4.3s.
The majority of the corners come from the junior college ranks, which means a time of adjustment, according to first-year coach Keith Burns: "The challenge is always the speed of the game. After that, it's covering the variety of formations that you see at this level. But the first thing a guy has to adjust to is the tempo and speed of the game. A two-year kid always has a lot of catching up to do."
K-State's safeties are called a "Free" and "Cat," but Burns says the two spots are interchangeable.
"He's a smart guy with a quarterback history which automatically gives a guy an advantage because he understands the passing game and passing concepts," said Burns. "He's played with success in the Big 12. He's just a calming force and his leadership is excellent."
Emmanuel Lamur mans the second safety position, and like Hartman, was a fulltime starter last year when he led the team in tackles with 68.
"Emmanuel just gets better at something on every snap," said Burns. "He's a tough, physical guy, who is very good at good run support, but he's still learning football."