Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson cleared to participate in spring practice

K-State senior quarterback will participate in spring practice

Arne Green
Salina Journal
Kansas State senior quarterback Skylar Thompson (10), who missed most of the 2020 season with an injury, has been cleared to participate in spring practices, K-State coach Chris Klieman announced Friday.

The fact that spring football practice is back after a one-year COVID-19 hiatus was enough cause for celebration this week at Kansas State.

The fact that quarterback Skylar Thompson has been cleared to participate was even better news.

"Monday before spring ball started, he was cleared for normal activity," K-State coach Chris Klieman said Friday during his first news conference of spring drills. "No tackling, no contact, (but) we will have him do all of our 7-on-7 stuff and 1-on-1 stuff.

"He's practicing every day."

Thompson, whose senior season was derailed by injury in the third game last year, opted to return in 2021 when the NCAA granted all athletes a free year of eligibility in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

"He won't be in many team settings," Klieman said. "He'll get into a few team settings that are non-contact team settings, but I'm excited for him because he's able to throw it to moving targets this spring, and prior to that we didn't think that was going to happen.

"So, great news for Skylar and great news for our football team."

Friday morning marked K-State's second practice of the spring in helmets and shorts. They will be in full pads for the remaining 13, starting Monday. They will practice Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for the next four weeks and wrap it up on Saturday, April 3.

"Lots of energy (and) excitement out there, guys flying around," Klieman said of Wednesday's and Friday's unpadded workouts. "Good communication. Great bunch of guys out there to work with, and we're just excited to be back on the field."

Klieman said he saw a new energy level in the two practices, given that the pandemic prohibited them from taking the field at all last spring.

"I think everyone is more fired up," he said. "Coaches and players, there's great excitement.

"It's so much fun to be out there with the guys. They're excited to be out there."

The Wildcats are getting an early jump on practice days, reporting at 6 a.m. for a short meeting, followed by breakfast before they hit the field for two hours starting at 7:15.

"Guys have been excited, but you can tell the energy because you missed the entire winter and spring last year," Klieman said.

The early reports on Thompson, a starter since his sophomore year, have been promising.

"They look sharp," Klieman said of Thompson's passes. "It's popping out of his hand, and you would never have though he had been injured, to be honest with you."

The competition for the No. 2 quarterback spot — assuming Thompson claims the starting job — could be spirited. Will Howard, who started the last seven games as a true freshman when Thompson went down, would appear to have the inside track, but he could be pushed by sophomore Jaren Lewis, redshirt freshman Max Marsh and true freshman Jake Rubley, who enrolled early this spring.

"I would say (Howard has) got a leg up because he's played seven or eight games, but we've got wide open competitions at so many positions," Klieman said. "Skylar, I think all of us envision him coming in and being the guy, but we also know that he's got to compete, and Skylar knows that, as well."

Center Noah Johnson's decision to return for a second senior year solidifies an offensive line that comes back intact with up to nine players who saw significant action. That is a refreshing change after the Wildcats had to break in an entire new starting front a year ago without the benefit of spring practice.

Klieman also revealed two position changes, with Wayne Jones and Ryan Henington, a former quarterback, moving from safety to linebacker.

"We think that serves Wayne best from a skillset standpoint," Klieman said of Jones, who started all 13 games as a redshirt freshman, then made starts at both safety and nickelback last year. "Wayne is a much more efficient in-the-box player than he is playing what we would call top down, playing from a safety down.

"(The move) contributes greatly to the depth we have at linebacker. In the Big 12, with people spreading you out so much, it's not like you have to be a 225-pound kid to play linebacker. You need to run sideline-to-sideline and tackle."

After missing spring practice last year and with the roster ravaged week-to-week by COVID-19, Klieman said the goal over the next month is to get back to the basics.

"Number one, practice faster and play faster," he said. "Create those habits from a practice standpoint that we lost in the spring, and then in essence in the fall because you had 75% of your roster at most at any practice because of COVID.

"The schemes will come as spring ball and summer and fall get here. Our biggest emphasis is to be better fundamentally throughout the spring, and that's going to be the daily challenge for the guys."