April 19, 2008

Position battles top Spring Game agenda

Steak versus bologna … bologna versus steak. It's not exactly life and death, but then again, the dinner they're playing for won't be the thing weighing most heavily on the minds of most Kansas State players during Saturday evening's Spring Game. Beyond the battle for a finer style of meat is a struggle for position, as this weekend's "meaningless" game will play a large part in determining the Wildcats' first tentative depth chart of the year.

And unlike the two teams' pregame dinner wager of steak and bologna, that is no laughing matter.

For the players on the turf, a game such as Saturday's is about making a statement. A solid outing could go a long way in improving an individual's standing on an early depth chart, while a lackluster one can dig the same player an early hole. In a formal game setting, the stakes are naturally raised, and K-State head coach Ron Prince hasn't attempted to mask the significance of his team's spring game performance. The game is scheduled to kick off at 6:30 Saturday evening at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

"I'll wait until after the spring game to pass too much judgment on these guys," Prince said. "Some of these kids naturally show up in games. If you just concentrate your evaluation off of drill work and controlled practices, you don't get the full scope of their abilities. For some reason, some guys are just better in games."

So let the position battles begin.

A poor spring game performance probably isn't going to cost quarterback Josh Freeman his job, and even if senior linebacker Ian Campbell doesn't wrap up a single ball carrier in the exhibition, it's safe to bet he will be starting at the defensive end spot come fall, but making things interesting this weekend are the slew of other Wildcats that don't have that same level of job security.

The Wildcats' inside linebacker positions promise to be two of the most contested spots on the field right up until the arrival of fall practice, as returning letterman John Houlik and Reggie Walker are already struggling to hold off newcomers Ulla Pomele and Hansen Sekona.

Prince has called the competition between each of the four men battling for the two spots "unparalleled," as none of them has been able to create the least bit of separation in the spring. This may all change this weekend, however, as the group has been split down the middle. Houlik and Sekona will dress for defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar's purple squad, while Pomelle and Walker will patrol the middle of the field for offensive coordinator Dave Brock's white team, making Prince's job of evaluating each a bit easier than it has been in recent workouts.

"Inside linebacker is going to be a lot of fun," Prince said Thursday. "Ulla Pomele and Hansen Sekona have really made it interesting. Walker and Houlik have stepped their game up because there's great competition there right now. The four of them are doing a really good job."

Then, there's the gaping hole the departure of All-American Jordy Nelson left at wide receiver. While it will likely be last year's Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, Deon Murphy, who claims the slot at the top of the depth chart come fall, at least for now, every spot is up for grabs. Murphy, who has been forced to miss the entirety of spring practice due to academic issues, has left the door leading to the top propped open, and judging by the way things are going now, the third-year head coach wouldn't be surprised if one of his active wide outs begins the process of walking through it this weekend.

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