Talented … yes; inexperienced … yes. That's part of the story of Kansas State's offense in 2011 as Collin Klein accepts the chore of a first-time starting quarterbacking, while first-time Wildcat Bryce Brown is expected to emerge him in the backfield at running back by the start of Big 12 play, and some are saying that Sheldon Smith may be the best receiver in camp after redshirting in 2010.
The Wildcats are also youthful in the center of the line with three first-time starters in junior college transplant Shaun Simon at center, flanked by redshirt-freshman B.J. Finney at right guard, and sophomore Keenan Taylor at guard.
"We're younger than we might seem in that we are new at the interior line positions (center and both guards), we're relatively young experience wise at quarterback, and we're young at running back," said Wildcat coach Bill Snyder.
"Those are positions of on-going development, but we are pleased with the progress and we are on schedule, as we speak."
Klein will find himself under the microscope as he enters the fall season as the Wildcats starting quarterback.
From a year ago, Snyder said, "Whatever the amount you can do in degree of improvement one can make, he has done it. He's that type of young guy. He's constantly watching video tape, he's throwing every day, and he's providing leadership every single day."
The 6-5, 226-pound Klein proved he could run the ball out of the quarterback position last year when he dashed for 432 yards (5.7 per carry) and scored six times. In the spring game, the lanky junior showed off his arm by completing 25-of-37 passes for a whopping 358 yards and five touchdowns.
While saying that Klein will be the first to get the ball when August drills begin, Snyder added that it would remain competitive with Sammuel Lamur (6-4, 221, Sr) followed by Justin Tuggle (6-3, 227, Jr).
Lamur, who played at both Independence (Kan.) Community College and Joliet (Ill.) Junior College), played briefly in four games last year completing all three of his passes for 28 yards.
Out of Blinn College, Tuggle was ranked the No. 1 dual-threat QB in junior college last year when he passed for 2,015 yards and 17 scores, plus added another 733 ground yards with a dozen more TDs.
A product of Alpharetta, Ga., Tuggle started his career at Boston College in 2009 when he passed for 229 yards and four touchdowns in limited play.
Brown has the talent to be K-State's No. 1 back, but chose not to take part in all of KSU's summer workouts, which left the position open for the taking entering fall camp. In fact, on the initial two-deep roster announce on Tuesday, Brown was joined by Angelo Pease and John Hubert as tri-first-teamers.
"I think we have a number of young guys who will make it a competitive position right up to the end," said Snyder. "I always try to promote competition, but it has to be realistic, and this is."
Brown, who was named to the Preseason Big 12 Conference first team, ran No. 1 in the spring, but just a stride or two behind are the talents of Hubert and Pease, who played quarterback, running back and wide receiver last year for Hutchinson Community College. Also in the mix is the 5-foot-4 Robert Rose.
Of Pease, offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said, "He is physical, he is fast and he has some versatility for what he can do. He also has some good leadership skills."
Expected to eventually lift his status to No. 1, Brown, a 6-0, 216-pound sophomore, is a product of Wichita East and transfer from the University of Tennessee, where he rushed for 460 yards on 101 carries, plus had 10 receptions for 137 yards in 2009.
While others see how big, strong and fast Brown is, Snyder first says, "He's a good young person, who has good values in place. So much has been heaped upon him in terms of expectations, it would be easy for him to become off-center. He has the capabilities to be a quality running back and he is a competitive young person."
In comparing Brown's talents to those of Daniel Thomas, Snyder said, "He's different in that he's faster than Daniel, but the question will be whether he is as durable as Daniel. He's a pretty fluid back and has deceptive speed. He's not one of those backs that have three or four gears. His increase in speed isn't as apparent because he's so fluid."
Serving as a sometime runner, sometime receiver, but most of the time blocker for his friends in the backfield is junior Braden Wilson (6-4, 244), who is loaded with versatility for the position he plays.
Decorating the perimeter of the offense is very likely its strength with wide receivers Tramaine Thompson (5-7, 165, Soph), Brodrick Smith (6-1, 209, Jr) and Chris Harper (6-1, 225, Jr), who all return as starters, plus Sheldon Smith (5-11, 180, Sr) has been the talk of the summer camp.
In fact, Klein called Smith ".. the most improved Wildcat in the K-State camp." Harper caught 25 passes for 330 yards and four scores last year, while playing only partial seasons due to injuries were Smith with 14 catches for 191 yards and three TDs, and Thompson with 19 catches for 258 yards and no TDs.
"We have experience, but they're young in games played, which can tend to promote uncertainty," said Snyder of the collective pass catching positions.
K-State does have game-time experience at tight end with the return of Travis Tannahill (6-3, 245, Jr) and Andre McDonald (6-8, 276, Soph), who took all of the snaps at the position a year ago. In addition, Zach Trujillo has positioned himself for playing time as a redshirt-freshman.
The potential strength of the o-line will be at tackle where Clyde Aufner (6-6, 301, Sr), Manase Foketi (6-5, 300, Sr) and Zach Hanson (6-8, 313, Sr) all return with starting experience, and certainly Big 12 size.
Foketi started every game at left tackle, while Aufner started the last nine games of the season on the right side, while Hanson also logged the other three starts. All were key components in K-State rushing for 199 yards per game, which ranked second in the Big 12.
Freshman and Scout Team Player of the Year B.J. Finney (6-4, 297, Fr) looked to be starting at center until a week ago when Simon was inserted at center, and Finney moved to guard.
"He's a really versatile young man and can play a lot of places. He has worked at all three spots in order to enhance the depth of our offensive line," said Snyder.
Taylor (6-4, 278, Soph) and Colten Freeze (6-4, 301, Sr) round out K-State's top three guards.
"It's pretty important to be strong up the middle, and I think we are developing," said Snyder. "I like the direction we are going."
STARTING ON OFFENSE
WR: Brodrick Smith, Sheldon Smith, Chris Harper
LT: Manase Foketi
LG: Keenan Taylor
C: Shaun Simon
RG: B.J. Finney
RT: Clyde Aufner
TE: Travis Tannahill
QB: Collin Klein
RB: Angelo Pease, John Hubert, Bryce Brown
FB: Braden Wilson