Kansas State football coach Chris Klieman pleased with offensive line's progress in spring practice

Klieman pleased with progress over 15 practices

Arne Green
Salina Journal
Kansas State coach Chris Klieman checks his notes during a recent spring practice.

As Kansas State coach Chris Klieman reflected on the Wildcats' first full spring of practices in two years, it came as no surprise which position group benefitted most from the extra work.

A year ago, the Wildcats were breaking in five new starters on the offensive line without a spring or even part of the summer to work individually, or together as a unit. So add 15 extra practices, not to mention the experience under fire through 10 games, and it only made sense.

"There's probably not an area where we didn't make progress," Klieman said Tuesday during his news conference to wrap up the spring. "They just stick out because of how new they were last year."

Center Noah Johnson's decision to return for a second senior season — the NCAA granted players an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic — means the Wildcats return their entire offensive line. In fact, they bring back eight different players who started at least one game.

"(Sophomore) Cooper Beebe had a phenomenal spring," Klieman said. "He can play so many different spots. The only one he's not playing is center.

"And Christian Duffie has really come into his own. We've kept him on the right side, had him play right tackle, and he's improved his body (and) improved his technique."

Beebe started at both left guard and right tackle last year, while Duffie saw action at both tackle spots. Also back are Josh Rivas at left guard, Johnson at center and Ben Adler at right guard.

Offensive line taking 'giant steps'

Beebe confirmed early in the spring that the line was ready to take a leap forward in 2021.

"I definitely believe from last year we've taken giant steps," he said. "Just getting reps together.

"Obviously we had not a lot of experience last year, but getting those reps and continuing to get those reps, I think we've taken a huge step from last year."

What has pleased offensive line coach Conor Riley the most was the numbers as well as the versatility of his group.

Kansas State head football coach Chris Klieman surveys the field during practice this spring at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

"Probably the first thing that we're seeing is a lot more competition, even without having a few guys available because of injuries," Riley said. "We're seeing a lot more depth and guys who can fit into roles that will be necessary moving forward.

"I do think we're playing more physical, and they know we're not where we need to be, but we are taking some strides. That's all the way across the board, and that's something that we've been preaching since we've gotten here."

Getting Johnson back as a second-year starter solidified the line, not only on the field but off.

"Noah is definitely one of the leaders of not just the o-line, but of our whole team," Beebe said. "He really keeps us together and keeps us all going, so that's just huge."

No rest for the weary

Klieman said that unlike last year, when there was no spring practice, 2021 has been more hectic than usual.

"It's a strange year because there is no break," Klieman said. "We didn't have spring break (and) we didn't have time, really, off. We jumped right into winter conditioning when the guys got back, and right from conditioning to spring ball, which was really good, I thought, for us as a staff, to keep the guys around."

That included morning practices on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with meetings on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

"So it was a grind for the guys — for the coaches and the players," Klieman said. "But a really productive time that we spent and I was really pleased with the progress that we made through 15 practices."