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April 26, 2011

Wildcats zoom toward spring game

To better quantify the recent strides made by his team over the course of 12 spring practices, Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder offered a rare twist during his Tuesday news conference. In discussing the Wildcats most recent full scrimmage held on Saturday, he offered statistics to illustrate strides as they prepare for the annual Purple-White spring game Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Snyder said the team took some "forward steps" in the scrimmage, which entailed short-yardage and long-yardage situations, working out of the end zone, and operating the two-minute drill -- "Everything that you can do, we tried to scrimmage it," he said.

"Our quarterbacks collectively threw for 600-and-something yards, so they took a positive step forward most of the scrimmage," he said. "They had their moments, each of them did during the course of the scrimmage, which kept them from having an absolutely outstanding scrimmage. They proved to be human."

Before the bells and whistles had a chance to sound and signify a glaring deficiency in defensive production, Snyder applauded the defense's tenacity in stopping the run, which he noted has been a major emphasis after the Wildcats ranked No. 119 against the run a year ago.

"Our defense held our offense to 3.4 yards per rush throughout the course of the scrimmage, which was conventional running (offense) against conventional running (defense)," he said. "That was a step forward in regards to defense because we have had the tag of not defending well against the run. They did a decent job in that respect."

Standouts? Apparently there were many. In particular, Snyder recognized the second-string wide receivers in Sheldon Smith ("He really stepped up and showed he can get himself on the field," Snyder said), Torell Miller and freshman Curry Sexton. Meanwhile, Snyder believes his linebacking corps -- not only Arthur Brown, Tre Walker and Emmanuel Lamur, but a group that he believes possesses five capable players -- continue to step to the forefront. Snyder indicated linebacker was the most consistent of the positions on the team.

"I've said this before but our linebackers continue to make steps forward and really played fast during the course of the scrimmage," Snyder said. "I'm pleased with the progress they've made."

It's all in the name of consistent improvement -- the buzzword that remains prevalent during all of this.

Asked which position group could use the most growth in terms of solidifying a two-deep and in demonstrating that consistency that he seeks, Snyder replied, "Probably all of them."

"Who's the closest to capacity? We always address to our players about not establishing limitations on what their capabilities are, so it's hard to say this is the ceiling because I don't think there is one," he continued. "I don't think there's a group that cannot afford a tremendous amount of improvement."

Snyder said that senior linebacker Alex Hrebec, who he said suffered an injury and hasn't performed in the spring, wouldn't be available for the spring game. Sophomore safety Ty Zimmerman hasn't participated in scrimmages as well.

They're two of several players that Snyder indicated wouldn't participate in the spring game, which will kickoff at 1:10 p.m. on Saturday and serves as the public's lone glimpse at the squad since it finished last season at 7-6 with an appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl.

"We've had kind of a disruptive spring," Snyder said. "We have quite a few young guys that we'll probably hold out of scrimmage. You'll probably figure that out Saturday. We've had some family issues with a number of our players and coaches for that matter, which they've had to tend to, and obviously they couldn't practice because of that. We've worked through it and have worked through it very well but it's created a little bit of a lack of continuity because of that."

Snyder indicated he was uncertain whether he would pit the first-team offense against the second-team defense, adding that although the normal protocol has been ones-versus-twos that he likely wouldn't decide upon the spring format until Thursday.

However, Snyder did outline an unsettled quarterback position between junior Collin Klein, junior college transfer Justin Tuggle and returning senior Sammuel Lamur, which perhaps won't be decided until the fall.

"They're all battling and the battle will continue, which it will," Snyder said. "Collin will be on the field first on Saturday in all likelihood. We still have two practices (on Wednesday and Friday) to define that. But if we were going into the spring game today or tomorrow, then Collin would step onto the field first, Sammuel would go second and Justin would be on third. And that's the pecking order today.

"But I said something last week that's still true. Once you see one that's finally stepping above the other, the other one takes a lightening bolt step forward, and the one that had done that before tempers himself, or does something that kind of draws him back. It's really staying very, very close."

Sophomore offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas admitted that "most likely it's Collin that's taken more command, but everyone is equal in my eyes."

Redshirt freshman center B.J. Finney, who is expected to see action with the first-team unit, said he was impressed with the quarterbacks during the recent scrimmage.

"Our quarterbacks did really well," Finney said. "The race is still heated. Nobody knows where they're falling yet (on the depth chart)."

Senior defensive end Jordan Voelker, who spoke to reporters for the first time on Tuesday after earning early-spring recognition by Snyder for his efforts after four practices, said he most notices the overall speed from the quarterback position.

"I mean the speed is what's so hard because usually defensive ends aren't quite as fast as the quarterbacks and they're all really athletic," Voelker said. "It's a task to tackle them and keep up with them. They've all been throwing the ball really well lately. Hopefully, they'll keep that up."

Voelker acknowledged the perception that erupts in the face of the Wildcats' churning out 600 passing yards in a scrimmage.

"Their receivers were running good routes and as a defensive line we weren't getting the rush we needed to," he said. "Our corners were having to cover for too long. We just need to keep improving on that and helping our corners out a little bit."

But Voelker also believed the defense has been better against the run.

"The defensive line has been playing pretty solid right now," he said. "Hopefully, we can keep that up. We've been putting a big emphasis on it, the coaches and player as a defense have been trying to stop the run better. We still need to work on our pass rush, which was another weakness of ours last year, but hopefully, that'll keep getting better."

Similarly, Voelker understood the perception that the offense usually catches up to the defense during the course of spring workouts.

"Usually in the earlier scrimmages as I've seen the defense tends to do a little bit better early on because it's all natural instinct," he said. "You're just tackling the ball and it takes the offense a lot more to mesh together. They've got to have 11 guys doing everything right and we only need to have one guy make a play.

"We're just trying to stay good as a team. We've got to stick together and keep making each other better."

It'll culminate on the field on Saturday during a competition in which Snyder admitted, "I don't even know what the fans want to see."

"I would like to think they'd like to see whatever we do out there," he continued. "The purpose of the spring game for us is to try and not have a spring where you have 14 practices and then a showcase game. It's to have 15 practices. I want to be coaching and teaching and for our coaches to do so and that the players gain something out of it and they gain experience in a lot of different ways.

"By and large it's being able to make the game as basic as it can be so we have the opportunity to assess players in a very, very competitive situation without being affected by schemes. By that I mean if you scheme things in a certain way you'd probably make anybody look good. We just want to see 'A' line up against 'B' with no tricks and see who's getting better. That's how we approach it."

Expect the Wildcats to approach the outing energized as well.

"Really just out intensity, our commitment to make a change and improve and progress have improved," said junior linebacker Arthur Brown, who will make his long-awaited debut. "We're progressing every day. One aspect we need to improve on is consistency. That's something we've improved upon, but something we need to improve upon even more."

It remains the buzzword for a program that continues to progress.


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