After losing nine of eleven defensive starters from last year’s team, there are many questions to be raised about Kansas State’s defense entering the 2013 season. One area that looks to be in good shape for Bill Snyder’s Wildcats, however, is the safety position.
Returning for his senior season with high expectations is strong safety Ty Zimmerman. In his junior campaign, Zimmerman had a streak of four games (Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa State and West Virginia) with an interception. He finished the season with five total in Big 12 play, enough for first in the conference and tied for sixth nationally.
A team captain in 2012, Zimmerman’s leadership on defense was notable when he was on the field—and notably absent after he was sidelined for Kansas State’s final two regular season games following a left knee injury in the game against TCU. In the Wildcats’ first game without Zimmerman in the lineup, Baylor, K-State’s defense struggled to slow down the Bears’ offense en route to Kansas State’s first loss of the season.
Zimmerman enters this year as a contender for the Bednarik, Thorpe, and Maxwell awards along with being on the watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski and Lott IMPACT Trophies. Chosen as a second-team All-American, he was also recently placed on the Preseason All-Big 12 team by vote of media members who cover the Big 12. Voted a captain by his teammates again for the 2013 season, Zimmerman’s leadership will be crucial for an inexperienced defense trying to find its footing.
With the graduation of last year’s starting free safety Jarard Milo, sophomore Dante Barnett will take over this year alongside Zimmerman in the K-State secondary. Seeing only limited action as a freshman, Barnett recorded one tackle against Missouri State, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Oklahoma State, he also broke up a pass against West Virginia, and made two tackles against Texas Tech.
When Zimmerman went out through injury, Barnett stepped into the strong safety role, making the start against Baylor. He had a career high 14 tackles, one for a loss, as well as a pass defended in the loss that saw K-State’s defense struggle in the absence of Zimmerman. In his second start, against Texas, Barnett made another four tackles, helping K-State to win its Big 12 title.
Barnett gained valuable experience as a freshman and looks to build upon that experience as he enters his sophomore season as a starter for the Wildcats. Kansas State’s spring game proved a good platform for Barnett, and he gave the purple-clad fans reason to be optimistic in his ability to start next to Zimmerman. He notched five tackles, an assist, and picked off Joe Hubener, returning the interception 26 yards to set up the purple offense for a touchdown on the next play.
The Zimmerman and Barnett safety duo allowed only a 51-yard field goal to the white offense in the Kansas State spring game, and only 62 net passing yards. While the game is far from a fair barometer as they faced only the second-team offense, it is a stepping-stone as the defense follows the Snyder philosophy to get better every day.
If K-State’s depth is tested at safety, things could be tough for the Wildcats, who struggled last year when Zimmerman was out of the lineup. Junior defensive back Joseph Bonuggli and junior Iowa Western Community College transfer Travis Green would likely be the first two on the list to be called upon in the case of an injury, both of who are relatively untested and inexperienced.
As the countdown to the start of the season continues (less than 40 days now), we’ll continue to break down Kansas State’s defense, with an in-depth look at the rest of the secondary next before turning to the Wildcats’ front seven in the weeks ahead.