July 20, 2024

Chris Klieman approaching spring ball with new faces in key places

Kansas State Wildcats Football

Kansas State Coach Chris Klieman walks along the sideline during the first quarter against UCF Saturday September 23, 2023 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

MANHATTAN, Kan. — The veteran coach is heading into his sixth season with the Wildcats, and is trying to evolve with the times after the expansion of the Big 12.

After all, Chris Klieman is loving where Kansas State stands approaching spring ball, despite filling some holes on his roster and coaching staff along the way. The off-season has been a whirlwind though. After the bowl victory over NC State, Klieman removed the interim tag and promoted Conor Riley to Offensive Coordinator. Not to mention he added former Ole Miss Coach Matt Wells to work alongside Riley with orchestrating the offense.

Klieman believes the tandem will make Avery Johnson a high-caliber Big 12 quarterback. There’s no denying the Wildcats have momentum, considering they won six of their final eight games. As a matter of fact, Klieman’s boys have finished in the top-20 of the final AP Poll for the past two years.

Kansas State had its’ first of 15 practices Tuesday, and Klieman’s main focus is getting everyone comfortable with each other. He feels it was beneficial that the players had a really good winter, got stronger and added muscle mass. Now it’s all about them learning the playbook, and building chemistry.

“All new guys whether they’re transfers or mid-year guys, getting them to understand how we do things and how we practice,” Klieman said. “Getting Coach Wells up to speed, and just getting back into football mode, because we’ve been in so much conditioning and weight lifting.”

The offense will be without some studs at the skill positions this time around, including quarterback Will Howard, veteran wideout Phillip Brooks, and All-Big 12 tight end Ben Sinnott. On top of that, All-American offensive lineman Cooper Beebe, and three-year starter KT Leveston are off to the NFL.

Regardless of the voids, Klieman is confident that his offense is in good hands. It helps that the Wildcats return 1,000-yard rusher DJ Giddens. Johnson has dangerous mobility also, which means he and Giddens should be able to do some damage out of the backfield.

Keagan Johnson is looking to take over as the go-to receiver. Klieman is planning on rotating the other wide receivers around, in order to put them in the best spots to be successful.

The fans are eager to see Johnson’s development as a passer after a promising performance in Pop-Tarts Bowl. Which is why Klieman is ready for several players to take that next step, including Johnson’s backup Jacob Knuth. Wells has Klieman excited because of his head-coaching experience, previous work with quarterbacks, and understanding of what it’s going to take to get the most out of the players.

The other side of the ball took a hit with the loss of some key enforcers, but Defensive Coordinator Joe Klanderman knows the conference like the back of his hand. He’ll have to replace linebacker Daniel Green, as well as edge rusher Khalil Duke and All-Big 12 safety Kobe Savage.

Although that’s going to be a ton to fill in the experience, leadership and production department, Klanderman’s scheme will provide some familiarity. Edge rusher Brendan Mott is poised to anchor the defensive line, and second-leading tackler Austin Moore will be the general of the linebackers.

Klieman even added former NFL assistant coach Nate Kaczor as a special teams specialist. Most importantly, he’s encouraged by everyone’s work ethic, which should help make this spring a smooth transition.

“I’m excited for all of those kids that didn’t play this first year, that have had a year in the weight room, a year of learning the offense, defense, special teams,” he said. “Getting opportunities to participate and practice a lot in bowl prep, those kids are bigger and stronger, but how much has the game slowed down for them is what we’re looking for this spring.”

The Wildcats will have another practice later this week before spring break hits. However, Klieman wants all of his players to understand that when they return back to the gridiron, it’s going to be all work and no play.