April 23, 2024

Chris Klieman expecting Avery Johnson to make strides this spring

Kansas State Wildcats Football

Kansas State quarterback Avery Johnson drops back to attempt a pass during the third quarter against TCU Saturday October 21, 2023 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

MANHATTAN, Kan. — The Wildcats have a ton of buzz surrounding their team as they start spring practice this week, and rightfully so.

After all, several key contributors from last year’s nine-win squad are back, including quarterback Avery Johnson. Kansas State fans believe Johnson has the ability to take the program to the next level, and Coach Chris Klieman agrees. Johnson’s 2023 campaign was very promising, and he gave everyone a glimpse of his skills.

The signal-caller showed he has blazing mobility after he rushed for five touchdowns in the road victory over Texas Tech. Johnson also left a lasting impression in the bowl win over NC State. Not only did he throw for 178 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start, but Johnson also generated a rushing score. He earned MVP honors for his heroics too.

Now Klieman believes Johnson will carry that momentum into spring ball. In his mind it’s going to be beneficial that Johnson learned a lot from gunslinger Will Howard, who led the Wildcats to a Big 12 Title in 2022.

“I was so excited because he (Johnson) got so many reps in bowl prep that you saw him start off really well in the bowl game,” Klieman said. “We sputtered a little bit offensively, no panic and all of a sudden we turned it back on, and he just continued to improve as the game went on, didn’t make too much of it, stayed under control and let everything come to him.”

Klieman was encouraged by the decisions Johnson made with the ball, and how the rest of the offense responded to his energy. Most importantly, Klieman wants Johnson to be a quarterback that makes other around him better. The Kansas native is extremely explosive, and the fans are eager to see how far Johnson has come as a passer.

“I think physically everybody knows the tremendous talent he has, the tremendous gifts he has throwing and ability to run the football,” he said. “Now it’s just continuing to slow the game down for him mentally, it’s the pre-snaps pictures, and that’s a repetition thing.”

On top of that, Johnson is bulking up and adding more muscle mass to his frame. The 19-year-old will be operating under two Coordinators this time around, including one that coached him against the Wolfpack. Conor Riley and Matt Wells will try to bring out the best in Johnson, which will benefit the rest of the offense. Riley is a guru on the offensive line, and Wells has a nice track history with quarterbacks, so that should make a great recipe on the gridiron.

Johnson is already building a bond with Wells too, who Klieman hired this past January. Those two establishing chemistry will go a long way when the Wildcats navigate through the Big 12 gauntlet this fall. Johnson has a solid supporting cast with 1,000-yard rusher DJ Giddens to hand the ball off to, and Keagan Johnson, who established himself  as possession receiver down the stretch last year.

The Wildcats will enter the 2024 season ranked in the top-20, so there’s no denying they’ll have a bullseye on their backs. However, everything starts with ironing out the wrinkles this spring, and Klieman can’t wait to see the magic Wells can create with Johnson.

“I’m just excited that one game where we played 65 to 70 snaps is going to make him so much better as we get into spring and into the fall.”