It seems everyone is looking down on Kansas State this season.
After finishing the season ranked at the No. 18 team in the country–due in part to their defense ranked 30th in points allowed–it seems hard to remain positive of their season outlook after key losses. But it’s the knee-jerk assumptions of the loss of leaders like linebacker Jonathan Truman and defensive back Randall Evans that are blinding the talent left at Bill Snyder’s disposal.
Even with Evans gone–responsible for four interceptions and 10 passes defended last season–the secondary is in good shape with two vicious hitmen roaming the field, able to attack at any point.
Leading that charge is senior strong safety Dante Barnett who was named to the preseason All-Conference team after snagging a trio of interceptions and 77 tackles last season. His outlook looks even better this season as K-State’s most experienced defender with 28 career starts.
Truman was the heart of the team last season, leading the program with 128 tackles. Even though Barnett is playing back, he’ll be assuming Truman’s role as the team’s leader says Snyder, “He has made consistent, confident growth throughout his time [here]. With that confidence comes the leadership he has been able to provide.”
He’s a player that can do it all, and his enthusiasm and balance should prove contagious and bring out the best of the surrounding players, particularly cornerback Denzel McDaniel.
McDaniel is a great case as to why people are down on the Wildcats defense this season but shouldn’t be. His lone career interception and three passes defended doesn’t instill much confidence to a box score enthusiast. But he plays like a linebacker roaming the corners, providing some of the league’s hardest hits. His two balls jarred loose last season don’t paint a good enough picture. Teams run away from him and he still finds a way to get into a good number of plays. And if he didn’t land the hit, he wasn’t far from it.
While teams run away from McDaniel, they have reason to steer away from fellow senior corner and resident speed burner Morgan Burns who had three interceptions. Together they make the top cornerback duo in the league.
Roaming underneath the secondary are bigger concerns at linebacker. As much as Barnett and McDaniel should make plays outside of their zone, the ‘Cats return only 44 tackles. But trust Snyder to utilize his talent in different fashion than Truman and Dakorey Jackson who were resident run-stoppers.
Look for sophomore Elijah Lee to have a breakout year. In nine games as a third-down specialist, Lee compiled 4.5 sacks. With his 6’3” and 220 pound frame, he’s a big, aggressive body that poses matchup problems along the line. He can bull rush just as well as rip around the edges. What’s scary is that he was playing all on raw ability last season as he told Kansas.com.
“When I first came into camp, I didn’t know where to line up or what I was doing. Now I am in the playbook and in the film and I know what I am doing.”