When K-State hosted it’s sole open fall football practice this Saturday, there were two notable absences – senior left guard Cornelius Lucas and senior wide receiver Torell Miller. And while I’d like to have Miller, his presence isn’t necessarily paramount for team success. The question is, what is K-State left with without Lucas?
Note: this post needs a big caveat – there’s no indication Cornelius Lucas will not be returning for his senior year. When the team’s seniors were introduced on Saturday his name was not mentioned by Snyder, and a school spokesman refused to comment on the situation immediately after. According to the Kansas City Star, as of Tuesday the team has stated Lucas has not left the team. As such, this scenario remains firmly in the hypothetical.
Examining the loss of Lucas requires two trains of thought: what does the team lose, and how capable are the Wildcats of filling the hole? While only a two-star athlete coming out of New Orleans, Lucas was another rough gem that this coaching staff turned into a true diamond. At 6’9” and 330 pounds, he’s an absolute bear and brings the muscle along with the mass to win just about every battle on the line. A full listing of his achievements can be found here, but the most important thing to know is that he is the best tackle in the Big 12 this year.
So Lucas is good. CBS Sports is predicting him to be drafted in the fourth or fifth round this year. With a new quarterback at the helm and an expectation for John Hubert to receive a significantly higher number of carries this season, he needs to be great. The experts believe he will be. What are the team’s other options?
B.J. Finney is firmly entrenched at center, and should be among the best in the nation at that position. It looks like he’ll be flanked by Cody Whitehair at left guard and Keenan Taylor at right, with Tavon Rooks at right tackle. The primary backup is Boston Stiverson, who replaced Whitehair in the Baylor game and played for Rooks against Texas.
In filling Lucas’s spot, it’s important to look at natural fits. Whitehair and Stiverson are essentially the same size – 6’4” and about 310 lbs. While both have experience playing the tackle position, I’d like to see these kids assuming the two guard spots if Lucas doesn’t return. Not only would no defensive tackles be capable of bull rushing their way to the quarterback, but Cody Whitehair and Boston Stiverson would combine for the coolest name duo at any position, any team, any sport, in the nation.
In this scenario, Rooks definitely moves over to left tackle and defend the blind spot while Keenan Taylor assumes the right tackle spot. Both players are a little lankier, but Rooks was an honorable mention in the Big 12 at RT in 2012. The senior also has more experience, transferring to K-State as the No. 23 junior college player in the country while playing at Navarro Community College (and considered to be the best pass blocking JUCO player in his class).
The other option is to promote continuity, as this offensive line played together last year and it may be more advisable to keep players at the positions they know. Taylor played guard last year, and you need to be positive he’s a good fit to move over to right tackle. During the Saturday practice, Whitehair assumed left tackle, and Bring On The Cats is projecting Whitehair to back up Rooks at the RT spot this season. As such, putting Whitehair at tackle could be the better option – after playing as a freshman, he’s had time to mature and should be even better as a sophomore.
It’s hard not to love this line. The players are all solid and able to move between positions if need be. Senior William Cooper, junior Drew Liddle and sophomore Matt Kleinsorge are all sufficient backups. The problem is, solid doesn’t necessarily cut it for a team looking to surprise the league and repeat as Big 12 champions. Lucas brings the size and athleticism to dominate defenders one-on-one. That’s why he’s projected to go off the board in the middle of the NFL draft. Losing him would not mean devastation, but I can see two games (Texas and TCU) in which his presence could mean the difference against defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Devonte Fields. Th0se guys are both All-American talents, and Fields could be a first-teamer. The Wildcats need an All-American tackle blocking them.
*Note: one of my readers has informed me that Lucas had a family emergency to attend to this weekend. While The Jug hopes everything is ok, it’s good to hear there’s no reason to believe he won’t be back this year. Cornelius has a bright future as a football player in the NFL, and the next decade should be productive for him.