MANHATTAN, Kan. – Usually when a coach has several quarterback candidates and says no one is standing out, it means no one is outstanding.
In Bill Snyder's case, that does not always hold true. Starting in the early 1990s when he practically raised Kansas State's program from the grave, Snyder has consistently come up with productive winners at the key position in the game.
Players like Jonathan Beasley, Michael Bishop, Ell Roberson and Chad May never went on to start in the Pro Bowl. But Snyder was able to hone their skills and burnish their talents, and package it all into an effective attack that took the once-woeful Wildcats to 11 straight bowl games.
Now in his second season after a three-year retirement, the 32nd and 34th head coach in Kansas State history again finds himself with a challenge. He's moving with customary caution while deciding among Carson Coffman, Collin Klein and Sammuel Lamur for the quarterback job.
Coffman may have a slight edge since he started four games last year before giving way to Grant Gregory, a sixth-year senior who had transferred as a graduate student.
"I would say that when we take the reps, Carson takes the first rep, Collin takes the second rep and Sammuel takes the third," Snyder said. "We aren't going to invest that kind of repetition unless there is a belief that they are on an equal stage and will remain competitive for the spot."
Whoever winds up under center will not be the hub of the offense. That job falls to Daniel Thomas, the Big 12's leading rusher in 2009. Though hampered by a sore shoulder that he hurt on the last play of the season opener, Thomas wound up with 1,265 yards, the fourth-largest harvest in school history. The rugged 6-2, 228-pounder got this year's preseason nod as Big 12 offensive player of the year.
Thomas proclaims himself "100 percent."
"I think the sky is the limit for us," Thomas said. "We have a lot of playmakers on offense so I think we can be as good as we want to be."
Thomas' consistency and toughness has made him popular with teammates.
"I think he's the best running back in the Big 12," said Coffman.
Four of the five starting offensive linemen who helped open holes for Thomas are back. But the loss is a big one — all-conference left tackle Nick Stringer.
The bad news is the departure of Brandon Banks, the 5-foot-6 dynamo who tied for the national lead last year with four kickoff-return touchdowns.
Altogether, the Wildcats return five starters on offense and seven on defense. The returning players have a better idea of what to expect from Snyder, who came out of retirement to replace Ron Prince, the man who was fired three years after replacing him.
"I just feel like we have a better grasp of how this program's going to be run," said center Wade Weibert. "We have a good idea of what coach Snyder wants from us at all times. There really are no surprises, like, 'Oh my gosh, he wants us to do that?'"
Defensively, the strength may lie in the secondary. Returning are Tysyn Hartman, Emmanuel Lamur and Troy Butler. Hartman suffered a knee injury in the season-ending loss to Nebraska but had a team-leading five interceptions.
Adam Davis, a defensive end who starred last year at Hutchinson Community College, was being counted on to shore up the line. But a disk problem will require surgery and sideline him this season. Davis had 23 sacks in two years in junior college and his loss could hurt.
"We need to come together," said Lamur. "But the whole defense has room to improve. We are a team, so it is not just the defensive line or the linebackers or the secondary. We all have areas we can improve."
Various projections have the Wildcats picked anywhere from third to sixth in the Big 12 North following last year's 6-6 campaign.
Snyder said he's equally uncertain how things may turn out.
"Teams are different year-in and year-out," he said. "They're always going to be different, no matter what. You can have all of them back or none of them back. Things are always going to be different."
Kansas State kicks off its 12-game regular season schedule Sept. 4 with a visit from UCLA.