May 25, 2024

Joe Klanderman prioritizing depth on defense through spring ball

Kansas State Wildcats Football

Kansas State Defensive Coordinator Joe Klanderman walks along the sideline during a timeout in the fourth quarter against UCF Saturday September 23, 2023 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

MANHATTAN, Kan. — With the Big 12 expanding to 16 teams this upcoming season, Joe Klanderman is restructuring his defense as Kansas State navigates through spring practice.

The Wildcats’ fifth-year Defensive Coordinator understands that he’s going to face a variety of new offenses this fall. Which is why Klanderman is equipping the defense with depth, and looking for some younger players to emerge as leaders.

After all, Kansas State lost a key defender at every level of its’ defense, including Khalid Duke along the defensive line, Daniel Green in the linebacker corp and Kobe Savage in the secondary. However, Klanderman believes this year’s group has a ton of upside.

So he’s not concerned about filling position holes when the transfer portal opens up again in a couple of weeks. Klanderman will instead focus on the defenders that he already has on the roster. Now it’s all about getting the youngsters up to speed, and putting them in the best places to succeed.

“This is a developmental program, I don’t think we disguise that in any way when we’re recruiting these guys, and I think we’re up front with them about that,” Klanderman said. “We don’t recruit people on the promise that they’re going to come in and play right now, we recruit people on the promise that they’re going to have to earn their way, and if they earn their way, we don’t care if they’re a freshman or senior, they’re going to play.”

Klanderman admits that his defense leaned heavily on Green’s production last season, but after he went down with an injury it made other players step up to the plate. The Wildcats have a great core of defenders for Klanderman to build around too, including last year’s top-two tacklers Marques Sigle and Austin Moore.

Brendan Mott and Cody Stufflebean will do damage off the edge, and Klanderman admires the versatility they bring to the table. Uso Seumalo is set to hold down the interior, but is limited this spring. It’s unfortunate that Kansas State is already thin at defensive tackle.

The secondary has a pair of ballhawks in corners Jacob Parrish and Keenan Garber, who combined for five interceptions in 2023. Klanderman works closely with the safeties, and will monitor them throughout spring ball. Above all, he feels positive about the secondary, and believes it’ll be a team strength.

“Jacob Parrish and Keenan Garber have been exceptional, they’ve been difference-makers,” he said. “As good of a duo as there will be in this league, and we feel so much better about what’s behind them right now.”

Colby McCalister played valuable reps at safety in the bowl game, but he’s out this spring recovering from an injury. Jordan Riley, Jack Fabris and Jet Dineen have all raised the intensity in practice, so Klanderman is welcoming the competition.

He’s even giving the linebackers more responsibility, and is confident they’ll continue grow as a unit. Moore is still the enforcer of the group, and Austin Romaine is ready to make a name for himself, so Klanderman is expecting more from them over the next two weeks.

“We’re trying to get Austin Romaine to realize that he’s not a young guy anymore, that he’s an old guy, and I think he’s doing a great job with that,” the Wisconsin native said. “We’re trying to stress Austin Moore by having him learn more than one position.”

Ironing out all of the wrinkles is what comes with the territory of spring ball, and Klanderman is trying to revamp his defense in every way imaginable. There is some urgency to improve, considering Kansas State finished 57th nationally in total yards allowed last season. At the end of the day, he knows all of the hard work from the players, and the coaching they’re receiving will make the Wildcats a stifling unit come August.

“Spring is about evaluation, and it’s about experimentation, so we’re trying to find those guys and we are trying to push some guys up with the starters.”