Apr 07, 2021 12:48 AM

K-State holds Spring Football wrap up Press Conference

Posted Apr 07, 2021 12:48 AM

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman met with members of the media via Zoom on Tuesday following the conclusion of the Wildcats’ 15 spring practices over the last month. A complete transcript of Klieman’s press conference – which was also streamed live on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ – is posted below.

Watch: Chris Klieman

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CHRIS KLIEMAN, HEAD COACH

Opening Statement...

“Good morning everyone. I'm really pleased with how we finished up spring ball last Saturday. We had practice 15 last Saturday and had a little scrimmage at the end. Most of it was just practice, but I look over the totality of what we accomplished over those 15 practices and then prior to that, our winter conditioning, it's a strange year because there is no break. We didn't have spring break. We didn't really have any time off. We jumped right into winter conditioning when the guys got back, and then right from winter conditioning went to spring ball, which was really good, I thought, for us as a staff to keep the guys around. We went through 15 practices and one Monday, Wednesday, Friday early morning, so the guys were here by 5:30 in the morning getting themselves taped and ready in meetings, a quick breakfast and get out on the field. Then Tuesday, Thursday we had meetings in the morning, as well, so it was a grind for the guys, for the coaches, for the players, but really productive time that we spent and really pleased with the progress that we've made through 15 practices. Some areas of strength that I really like, I think our offensive line has just come leaps and bounds from where we were last year at this time when we had all the new guys and didn't have spring ball, but that's just one area that really excited about the growth there. I know you'll have questions about the other positions, so we'll just start off with them.”

On the areas of most progress this spring…

“There's probably not an area we didn't make progress, but they (offensive line) just stick out because of how new they all were last year. A guy that just jumps out at me, two guys really – Cooper Beebe had a phenomenal spring, continues to develop and get better, and will be a guy that we can count on. Cooper plays so many different spots. The one thing he doesn't play for us right now is center. He's playing both guards and tackle spots and really versatile and had a great spring, and then Christian Duffie has really come into his own. We've kept him on the right side and had him play right tackle and improved his body and improved his technique and really pleased with him. Our fullbacks and tight ends continue to improve and get better. It was good to have a stable of running backs. The quarterback position is really stable, really excited about the young players on top of what we have with Skylar (Thompson) coming back. Defensive line and linebackers had a lot of new faces there, but guys are doing a nice job. The only area that we probably were down a bunch of guys still was in the secondary because I think we had three or four guys that we see as contributors in the fall that weren't able to go through spring ball because of some surgeries that they had at the end of the season.”

On the accountability progress this spring…

“We've come a long ways, and we met on those things as a staff throughout December and January before the guys got back and really came up with four core values of discipline, commitment, toughness and being selfless. Those four core values we spoke about every day with our team at practice, in position meetings, in leadership meetings, and the guys really did a great job of taking ownership and holding each other accountable. We had a tremendous offseason with regards to the little things. Not missing meals; I think we're at 99 point something as far as the meal accountability of kids not missing any meals up there, to be honest with you. Better with academics, better with tutors, better with mentors. And it starts with your peers holding you accountable. So, we've got a long ways to go but, with all the things that happened in 2020 with COVID and everything else, really pleased with where we started at the end of January to where we're at on April 4th or whatever that Saturday was. But, obviously we have a ton of work in front of us.”

On the quarterback depth…

“Well, Will (Howard) ran with the ones all spring because Skylar (Thompson) just threw some 7-on-7, and I don't know when Skylar will be cut loose to do everything from a team standpoint on captain's practices in the summer. We hope that'll happen enough in the summer that he'll have some of the rust knocked off of himself. It's just excited about Will Howard's growth. He got thrust into a role that I don't think any of us expected him to be in for eight games, eight-plus games, last fall and did a really, really nice job, and learned from the experience. Had some growing pains, but you see his body, you see the way he throws a football, see how much stronger he is., the good weight that he put on. Excited about the progress that he made. I look at Jaren Lewis, one of the most improved guys on our football team as far as just the game is slowing down for Jaren. Excited about Jake Rubley, a young kid that just came in and is learning our system but is a really, really smart kid that has a lot of talent. Max Marsh, another quarterback that came in last year that led our scout team did a great job. He's improving. So, that room we're really excited about because we have depth, and we have different classes. We have somebody that's a six-year super senior to freshman.”

On the benefit of having Skylar Thompson around for the spring…

“Well, the benefit for him is the throwing to the moving targets rather than just throwing in the training room or throwing out on his own, maybe with a with an athletic trainer or something. He was able to be cut loose to be able to do non-contact drills. We're not tackling our quarterbacks right now in the spring anyway, but we didn't want him having to step up in the pass rush and get knocked around, so he just did the 7-on-7 periods, and I think it really lifted the football team to say, ‘Okay, he's not far from being totally cleared on his rehab,’ as well as just having him engaged like that made Will (Howard) better, made Jaren (Lewis) better, made the young quarterbacks better, because he was able to watch himself on film and sit in on a few of the quarterback meetings. It's great discussion to have with Coach (Collin) Klein, and it's a really healthy room. But, just to have him back and going through cadence and stuff I think helped Noah (Johnson), helped our offensive line even, it was in walkthrough periods. Just excited to see how quickly he's progressed and how much further ahead he is than a lot of people planned at this time.”

On Skylar Thompson’s response to the injury…

“Just because I saw how hard he worked in the fall and winter and even as the spring get going, I'm not surprised, because he has such tremendous work ethic. I think he was sore more than any of us thought he was going to be because he hadn't done that, but we increased his workload in the middle of those practices, maybe six through about nine or 10. When I say increased his workload, we typically do one period of 7-on-7 or one segment of 7-on-7. From practice four or five on we did two segments so that he could get a lot of throws. He was averaging between maybe 60 and 80 throws a practice, which we were originally thinking maybe 30 to 35 each practice. When we were able to double that, if not more, I think it gave him a bunch of confidence that I can cut it loose and go play.”

On the progress on defense…

“Made tremendous progress. Excited about the depth we've created in the defensive line. We're always a team that wants to play a number of guys in the d-line. Eli Huggins, who had a tremendous year last year, playing at a really high level, taking over that leadership role that Drew Wiley had last year. Excited about Eli. Jaylen Pickle had a really good spring. Timmy Horne, a transfer from Charlotte, is going to be an impactful guy. He's a difference maker up front with his size and athleticism and ability. (Robert) Hentz provides a lot of flexibility in depth there. He's done a really nice job at defensive end. Felix Anudike is probably the biggest surprise for me. I know how strong he is. He just needs to continue to have the game slowed down for him mentally, but he plays with a tremendous motor and does a really, really nice job for us. Spencer Trussell is, I think, ready to step into another role, an expanded role that will help us. At linebacker, the one that stands out to me that you guys do know about is Daniel Green. I thought Deuce had a phenomenal spring and really took over a lot of the leadership at that position. Cody's (Fletcher) a really good leader, but Cody was out most of spring due to an injury, just did some 7-on-7 as well but Daniel Green did a really good job. Then we have a bunch of young linebackers, you throw Wayne Jones into that mix. Between Wayne and then Ryan Henington and Austin Moore and Eric Munoz and Nick Allen, the list goes on and on. There's a lot of really good players there that just haven't had the experience, so I'm excited about the depth in that room.”

On having depth at defensive end…

“Yeah, and we need that. We need to be able to have guys taking 30 to 35 snaps and not 60 and 65 snaps, and you didn't talk about Bronson Massie, who's played a ton for us, and Khalid Duke that has played a ton for us. Those guys are going to be there, but Brendan Mott is another guy that jumps out at me that has had a really, really good spring on the edge as well. I like the depth we have. We're going to play eight to 10 guys every week, and that'll make us stronger.”

On the multiple defensive sets…

“Well, we did that some in the fall as well. It's more of our third-down stuff, and that's what we were doing in the spring as well is just working on a lot of different third-down packages. We did a lot more towards the end of the season. Baylor is when we really started to get into our third-down stuff with some three down. We just didn't have enough bodies in the secondary this spring, but it's what we've kind of always done on third-down situations. That's kind of what we're looking at is to do it more on third down just to try to get some more speed on the field.”

On the difference between three and four down on the line…

“Well, it helps guys like Khalid Duke and Nate Matlack. Nate's another one that I didn't mention, but Nate had a tremendous spring that has really changed his body. It gives a guy like Nate and Khalid (Duke) opportunities to drop, gives him opportunity to rush and gives him more of an edge to be able to take. Excited because those guys can be rush guys. They can be drop guys and it just gives us more versatility.”

On depth at running back…

“Well, we need to. It was good to have Joe Ervin back. He did a really nice job picking up where he left off as a true freshman. We're excited. Joe is going to do some really special things for us. He catches the ball out of the backfield well. He runs extremely hard, blocks well. I thought Jacardia Wright had an exceptional spring. We need a big back in there at times, and Jacardia ran extremely hard. The game is starting to slow down for him as well as understanding not only the run reads and stuff but catching the ball out the backfield. Then, probably the most impressive and important thing, is the past protection. I thought Jacardia did a really good job there. So, it's nice to have depth. Obviously, Deuce (Vaughn) is a special, special player. Keyon Mozee did some really good things as well, so excited about the depth we have at running back.”

On Julius Brents…

“Well, he’s 6’3” and 200 pounds, probably 205 pounds and is a really physical corner. Really smart. Understands the game really well. He will have an immediate impact in our secondary. Already a really good leader amongst the group. Has fit in really well with everybody, offensive kids, defensive kids, doesn't matter. Julius is just one of those guys that has that charismatic personality, that ‘it’ factor. One of the most fun guys to be around, and we're excited because Julius is going to add great value to us in the secondary.”

On the receivers…

“Well, it's a work in progress at receiver. We didn't have Chabastin Taylor. Everybody knows he was still out. We didn't have Landry Weber. He was out from a season-ending surgery. We didn't have Seth Porter for a good chunk of it. Seth got banged up but came in practice a little bit, so it was Phillip (Brooks). It was Malik (Knowles), and then it was a lot of other guys that were given opportunities to see how we can grow the depth there, what's maybe the future. I thought Keenan Garber had a really good, really good spring. Keenan needs to be an impactful guy for us. He's really, really fast, catches the ball well, needs to be crisp in his routes and be able to take the top off the defense because that's what he can do. Was excited about Keenan and just needs to continue to grow and continue to learn the route tree and keep doing a good job of pushing himself to be better, because we need Keenan to be a good player for us. Eric Hommel did some really good things that I could see out there just as a stable guy. A lot of other guys we’re learning about, Ty Bowman as a true freshman did some good things. He’s continuing to learn how to play the position. But Malik and Phillip are the two guys that kind of every day you saw some splash plays out of and whether it was Skylar (Thompson) throwing to him or Jaren Lewis or Will (Howard) or whoever else. It was fun. We threw the ball a lot more this spring by design to get quarterbacks a lot more throws with the Skylar situation. So, we needed more work in the secondary with the linebackers dropping. Our seven guys, we need to get more work anyway. So, it was a good spring from the pass game standpoint.”

On where Malik Knowles has progressed the most since last season…

“Just making plays and being consistent. Malik is a repetition guy, and he missed an awful lot of time last year, whether it was COVID related or anything else. Getting into a rhythm of practice. When Malik practices consecutive days and gets into a rhythm, he's one of the best receivers, I think, in the Big 12. He made some really splashed plays throughout spring ball, whether it was on crossing routes or tough catches or vertical down the seam or on post routes. It's something we have to have out of Malik. Malik, we think, is a really special, talented player that has tremendous upside and ability. We have to keep Malik healthy. He has to do a great job taking care of his body, continuing to get stronger, continuing to get a little bit more weight on. But, when Malik practices at a high level, our team is really good because it complements what our run game can be.”

On what the nickel position looks like in the fall…

“Great competition. When you look at the nickel position, the free safety, the strong safety. Jahron McPherson is a tremendous football player that will line up at strong safety and play a ton of football and play at a high level again. At nickel, I'm not sure what that looks like. We didn't have a bunch of competition there in the spring. At free safety, Russ Yeast really upgraded us in the secondary with depth with a guy that, we think, can be a starter with a guy that can be an impact. He played a ton of football in the past. You could see that on the field, the tremendous tackler, quarterback of the defense, can do a lot of really good things. He just needs to continue to learn our system, and as he continues to learn our system, he'll feel more and more comfortable communicating. But, I was really excited about Russ in the secondary and how he can help us at the safety spot. We were down Ross Elder, who missed the spring. We were down Hunter Henry, who missed the spring. We were down Aamaris Brown, who missed the spring. We were down TJ Smith, that missed the spring. So, there's four guys that fit somewhere, whether they're nickels, strong safeties, free safeties, but they missed the spring. So, those guys have to do a great job of getting together when it's captain's practices and some of those other things and getting their bodies ready to go because they missed so many repetitions. But, all four of those guys, we see somewhere in the mix in the fall.”

On more possible transfers in the secondary…

“I'm not sure where it's going to be at right now. You just never know, but we do have a few spots. We’re always looking to enhance and improve the football team. As everybody's going to learn throughout the spring, different institutions, people are going to come and go with the transfer portal the way it is. There's just going to always be roster management situations. So, we're looking for the right kind of guys to fit. I know this - we took five kids that transferred into our place that semester in January, and we hit five home runs when it comes to character and integrity. Those kids are going to help our football team, and they're going to play for us, and they make our locker room better. They make our team better, because all five guys that we brought in at semester are really impactful. Daniel Imatorbhebhe is one of the most special talented kids I've seen. What a wonderful kid to be around. He's made our team better because of his work ethic, and always having a smile on his face, and being engaging with the younger tight ends with the younger quarterbacks, as well as the older guys. He's the guy that's going to have a huge impact as well.”

On possible opening of recruiting in June…

“I think we're going to learn more in the middle of April, from what I understand. I would say they'd probably allow players to come to campus, but I don't think we'll be leaving campus. So, whether that means camps, which we hope we're able to have. We're counting on being able to have some camps so we can get an evaluation on guys, as well as unofficial and official visits. We think the month of June is going to be really busy. I don't see us being able to go off campus. It'd be great if we could go to some camps and stuff ourselves, although as a dad, I'll be able to go to a few camps because I've got to get my boy out and around a little bit too. But, we're excited to be able to welcome some student-athletes back to campus. I think everybody's ready for that. I think it's important for all of us, whether it's the student-athlete to us as coaches to the communities that they're going into, I think we're all excited to be able to have kids come and visit your campus.”

On if he wants the team vaccinated by the fall…

“We absolutely do. We'd like to have them vaccinated before summer. We don't know how that's going to look. I know that Lafene Health Center is starting to put out some things to vaccinate a lot of the students on campus or have the ability to. We are encouraging our kids to go get a vaccine. Almost all of us coaches have had two shots now and are fully vaccinated. We know the value, we know how important it is. We're going to keep pushing it. We hope there's not anybody that doesn't want to get vaccinated. We need to do a great job of educating our players on the benefits of eliminating some social distancing, eliminating some mask wearing, eliminating some quarantines, all those things, so that we can get herd immunity so that we can keep pushing past this COVID phase because everybody wants to get back to some normalcy. The best way to get back to normalcy is to get everybody vaccinated. So, if you have a chance, everybody out there, to get a shot, boy please take it, and let's get this COVID behind us and keep moving forward and get everybody vaccinated that can.”