Five questions for K-State football as Wildcats begin training camp for 2023 season

Football season is less than a month away for Kansas State.
That means training camp is underway in Manhattan as the Wildcats prepare to defend their Big 12 championship. K-State players reported for camp Tuesday and held their first preseason practice with head coach Chris Klieman Wednesday.
The Sept. 2 season opener against Southeast Missouri State will be here before you know it.
Here are five important questions facing the Wildcats as they block out distractions and spend the next few weeks focusing solely on football:
1. How will K-State deploy D.J. Giddens and Treshaun Ward at running back?
Challenging as it may be to replace an electric player like Deuce Vaughn, the Wildcats have a pair of talented running backs waiting to make plays in a wide-open backfield this season.
D.J. Giddens is a 6-foot-1 and 212-pound runner from Junction City who turned heads while playing behind Vaughn a year ago. He only saw limited playing time as a backup, but he managed to rush for 518 yards and six touchdowns on his 89 attempts to go along with eight catches for 98 yards.
K-State coaches have been high on Giddens since the day he stepped foot on campus. It will be interesting to see how good he can be now that he is out of Vaughn’s shadow.
But he won’t be alone in the K-State backfield. Treshaun Ward is also expected to see plenty of work after transferring in from Florida State. The 5-foot-10 and 194-pound senior rushed for 1,241 yards and 12 touchdowns during four seasons with the Seminoles. He also caught 28 passes for 210 yards and a score.
Ward was at his best during Florida State’s bowl game last year, when he rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns.
Giddens is a bruising runner between the tackles. Ward does most of his damage on the perimeter. Will offensive coordinator Collin Klein look to use both players in complementary roles? Or will he try to establish another workhorse runner like he did with Vaughn? Who starts? Can anyone else enter the rotation?
Now is the perfect time to sort through those questions.
2. Who will serve as backup quarterback behind Will Howard?
There is no quarterback controversy at K-State.
After leading the Wildcats to a Big 12 championship last season by throwing for 1,633 yards and 15 touchdowns, Will Howard is the unquestioned starter in Manhattan. This is his team, as Klieman likes to say.
But it is too early to accurately predict who will serve as backup quarterback. The race for QB2 is too close to call between redshirt sophomore Jake Rubley and true freshman Avery Johnson.
Rubley appears to have an early advantage because he has experience at this level. A year ago, K-State asked Rubley to play in four games and he responded by throwing for 42 yards and rushing for two yards in a limited role. The former four-star recruit could easily build on that this season.
But Johnson feels like the future of the position. The former Maize standout turned heads throughout spring practices with his speed and arm strength. His ability to scramble outside of the pocket and make plays with his feet separates him from most other quarterbacks.
It would make sense for K-State to try to redshirt Johnson, which means he can play in no more than four games. But the Wildcats also hoped to redshirt Howard last season. Plans can change.
Bottom line: the Wildcats have two quality options behind Howard. Choosing between them is a good problem to have.
3. Who will step up at defensive back?
The Wildcats return just one starter in their secondary.
Kobe Savage is back. Everyone else is gone.
How will K-State defensive coordinator Joe Klanderman go about replacing Julius Brents and Ekow Boye-Doe at corner? Who will he turn to without Josh Hayes and Drake Cheatum at safety?
Excellent questions.
Look for Keenan Garber, Will Lee, Jacob Parrish and Jordan Wright to compete for snaps at corner. Marques Sigle and VJ Payne seem likely to start alongside Savage at safety, but the rest of the depth chart is up for grabs.
Any way you slice it, the Wildcats will have trouble replacing what they lost in the back half of their defense. Brents, Boye-Doe and Hays are all currently on NFL rosters. This will be a position to watch throughout the preseason.
4. Which new players will shine on the defensive line?
Kansas State’s defensive front lost Felix Anudike-Uzomah and Eli Huggins during the offseason. Replacing them won’t be easy. Anudike-Uzomah was a first round NFL Draft pick by the Kansas City Chiefs this year, and Huggins was a veteran starter.
But the Wildcats do have some talented players to turn to up front. Khalid Duke is back at defensive end after spending the past two seasons at linebacker. Perhaps playing closer to the line of scrimmage will unlock his full potential as an edge rusher. Playing across from Brendan Mott or Nate Matlack could also help his game.
It seems like Uso Seumalo and Damian Ilalio are first in line to replace Huggins at defensive tackle.
They are all talented players who have shown flashes in the past. Are they ready to do more now that extra playing time is available?
5. Is Kansas State’s offensive line as good as advertised?
The strength of Kansas State’s football team appears to be its offensive line.
Piper High product Cooper Beebe is back for his final season of college football after previously earning Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year honors. He will get to block alongside four other returning starters, in Christian Duffie, Hayden Gillum, KT Leveston and Hadley Panzer.
Klieman has said he would like to use a rotation of eight players on the offensive line, which means Taylor Poitier, Andrew Leingang and Sam Hecht should also play this season.
As a group, they will have more experience than any other offensive-line unit in the Big 12. If they can block at an elite level, the Wildcats may not struggle to replace key playmakers like Vaughn, Malik Knowles or Kade Warner.
But experience doesn’t guarantee success. What if Vaughn made the K-State offensive line look better than it actually was?
The Wildcats are hoping for big things from their offensive line. They can prove they are ready to provide them this month.

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