Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
Breathe easy everyone – the injury report for this week points to all systems go for wide receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson. While Lockett left the Oklahoma State game with a hamstring injury, Thompson was unable to even play in battling mono and the Wildcats lost a painfully close game in Stillwater. The next week K-State took a lead into the fourth quarter against Baylor, but with the dynamic duo still sidelined, was unable to seal the deal. And while everyone is clamoring for the two stars to return on offense, the bigger impact may be on special teams.
Against Oklahoma State, Lockett had one return which he took for 22 yards. Admittedly not his best work, but you know he’s always good for something. It was also K-State’s longest on the day, as the rest of the team combined for 70 yards on six returns, good for an average of 11.7 (or about half of Lockett’s output). Returning punts, Ty Zimmerman largely took kneels and had one return for -1 yard.
The stats got a bit better against Baylor. K-State had three kick returns for 73 yards – an average of 24.3 yards which was nice. And Weston Hiebert had the team’s only punt return for 14 yards. Also, this didn’t really count because it was from a blocked punt. Most balls were downed and there was no fear observed from Baylor’s kickers. Lockett and Thompson change the dynamic of the game by taking one big return, then forcing punters and kickers to give up yards the rest of the game booting the ball out of bounds to avoid getting humiliated again. Teams were kicking right at Zimmerman, who has sure hands but scares no one with his return abilities.
Tyler Lockett is averaging 22.8 yards per kick return, with eight for 182 total yards. Tramaine Thompson has had two kick returns – including a 94-yard touchdown against LA-Lafayette in which Lockett threw a crucial block to make the play happen. Thompson only has four punt returns, but is averaging 33.8 yards per return (which is unreal), accumulating 135 yards on those returns.
These two force kickers to shoot out of bounds or sacrifice distance for height in order to allow coverage units proper time to get downfield, and are vital to special teams play. And while the drop-off at wide receiver is notable in the second string, it’s not as problematic because the offense is more maleable.
Something I encouraged people to watch against Baylor was the blocking being done by the wide receivers. While Lockett and Thompson are brilliant when someone is slinging the ball their way, Thompson is one of the ten lightest guys on the team at 167 pounds, and Lockett isn’t far behind at 175. Guys like Kyle Klein and Torell Miller are both over 200 pounds (and over six feet tall as well). While the Sexton brothers are smaller and quicker, they’re also toting more mass than their injured teammates. When that group is on the field, the quarterback has bigger targets to throw to (though there won’t be as many open plays downfield) and the running game has bigger bodies engaging defenders. Particularly important with Sams at quarterback, this means he’ll be attempting shorter passes (hopefully reducing interceptions) while getting more assistance in keeping safeties off his back when he runs.
Lockett and Thompson are the two best receivers on the team, and the offense will benefit from their return. However, when Lockett gets his first return for a touchdown against West Virginia this Saturday, everyone will remember how vital these two are to the special teams play.