- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Kansas State will be the final Big 12 school to begin spring ball when Wildcats hit the practice field today. The units at Baylor and Oklahoma will get more hype, but co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel has reason to believe K-State can have one of the Big 12’s best offenses in 2014 after a strong finish to last season.
On Tuesday, Dimel chatted with ESPN.com about holes that must be filled in the lineup, what to expect from his offensive leaders this spring and fall and the big game on the nonconference calendar.
First off, are you ready to coach up your son, freshman Winston Dimel?
Dimel: Hey, yeah, I’m excited about Winnie. He’s going to play fullback for us and it’s a really good niche for him because he’s built for it, has really good lower body strength. He’s about 6-1, 230 right now and getting pretty big. He’s kind of custom-made for that position. Winston is kind of that fullback/H-back type and I’m excited about having him come in, he’ll add some good stuff to the offense.
How excited are you about where this offense is heading going into the spring?
Dimel: Obviously the big thing for us is trying to hit where we left off. We ended the season with some good momentum and now we want to hit this thing rolling and grow with it. Our biggest concerns are we lost our two starting tackles, both good players with starting experience, and then our second thing is to replace John Hubert at running back.
How do you feel about those two tackle spots entering spring ball?
Dimel: We feel like we’re really athletic and we have some guys, two JC transfers. One is a first-semester transfer from Butler, Luke Hayes, who’s been with us for the whole winter conditioning and he looks really, really good so far. We feel like he’ll grab ahold of one of those tackle spots. Then we’ve got Aaron Bennett, a JC guy who redshirt last year, and we really feel like he’s got a chance to be solid at that other spot. Then we’ve got A.J. Allen,another JC guy we signed out of San Diego, who’s coming in and will challenge for that position. We have more depth in the O-line since we’ve had when we got back (in 2009), even though we lost two starters.
Where do you stand at running back now in replacing Hubert?
Dimel: That’s an interesting position. I think, to an extent, because he’s been here so long and hasn’t seen the field, DeMarcus Robinson is kind of the guy that’s underrated right now. He was a very highly recruited kid out of Wichita, very good speed, prototypical K-State back. He’s not much taller than Darren Sproles, about 5-5½ or 5-6.
But the one thing I’ve gotten leery about with small backs is their pass protection skills. K-State has had successful smaller backs, but I don’t like the small backs who can’t pass protect. Nice thing about D-Mac is he’s 205, 210 pounds. He’s really got huge calves and very good breakaway speed. D-Mac is a guy that people have looked past, but he’s the guy who could have a surprising senior year.
Speaking of those backs, where do you see Dalvin Warmack fitting in when he gets to campus?
Dimel: We like Dalvin a lot. I think he’s got a great mixture of strength and speed and he’s a super good leader, and he’s been a winner. Taking all those things and putting them into one package with him, I think he’s going to be a guy that’s got a chance to get on the field quickly. That was the positive thing in recruiting for him, too. DeMarcus is going to be a senior, and then Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones are the only two scholarship running backs we’ll have. With Dalvin’s time frame, he’s going to accelerate pretty quickly and have a chance to get on the field early.
What’s the next step for Jake Waters and what will you ask of him this spring?
Dimel: I think what he did against Michigan, through the extra weeks of preparation for that ballgame, he really got more of a grasp of feeling secure about taking things that are in the system when they’re there. He’s really kind of expanded his game. That’s where we expect him to keep progressing, that ability Collin Klein had to be able to get us into the very, very best play at the very best time. He did a nice job of that in the bowl game.
After proving he was arguably the Big 12’s best receiver last fall, what are Tyler Lockett’s goals now?
Dimel: He’s a really good route runner, probably underrated a little bit there, and he’s an extremely hard worker. He stays after practice and works on his routes and timing with the quarterbacks. He’s real diligent on improving his skill set in the little things. With that being said, he’s a weapon for us whether he’s getting the ball or not getting the ball. With a guy like him, you force people to double-cover him and if they don’t, you attack the single coverage. He brings a lot as a go-to guy but also a lot as a bait and decoy.
When you went back and watched the film, how would you sum up Daniel Sams role in 2013 and where do you see his role going forward? Does that have to be a situational thing?
Dimel: I like what Daniel does at quarterback, I’d just like to see him keep progressing and competing. We have depth now. You have Daniel who you can always go to if something happens to Jake, but we also have a redshirt freshman named Jesse Ertz who we feel like is going to be really, really good. We kind of have an interesting situation, because we don’t want to take away from the progress of Jesse. He has the chance to be outstanding. We also want to be able to use Daniel as well and get him some playing time. We’ve got to manage all of that.
Lastly, how do you feel about playing Auburn this year? I’m sure that’s going to be a heck of a chess match.
Dimel: That’s going to be a great game and one that I know our fans are really excited about, an opportunity to get a team that played in the national championship game and had a great chance to win the national championship. To have them coming into your home stadium and playing, that’s going to be a good time and a good game seen by a lot of people across the country. Great opportunity for us but a really tough challenge. They have a quarterback [Nick Marshall] who played at the Kansas junior college level and a lot of guys coming back. It’s our chance to see if we can play at that level and get back to where we were a couple years ago.