Conversation with the Coordinator: Tom Hayes

19 Aug

Kansas State defensive coordinator Tom Hayes wants to make the defense better, but he also appreciates the fact that the Wildcats have the luxury of a solid foundation from last season.

“You don’t win 10 games unless the pluses outweigh the minuses,” Hayes said during Kansas State’s football media day. “[Head coach Bill Snyder] doesn’t want to jump in there and interfere with what we did well. He just wants us to improve on the things that we need to improve on, and we’re working as a defensive staff every single day and night on that very thing.”

Like Snyder, Hayes believes in the power of fundamentals more than elaborate schemes. Spot-on implementation of a simple plan is better than sub-par effecting of a more complex one.

“It’s about getting your players in the right place … giving them a chance to make plays, and having just enough defense,” Hayes said. “You can go crazy with putting in all kinds of different calls, but you might not execute as well, and so we’ll put in just enough, but we won’t do so much that it screw our guys up.”

Still, the defense has much to accomplish before the season begins, and Hayes talked about who could be where come Sept. 1.

***

The defensive line is projected to consist entirely of seniors, including Meshak Williams and Adam Davis at the defensive end spots, but the player with the most experience is Vai Lutui. As the one with the most time on the field, he is charged with taking a leadership role this season. That means filling the sizable shoes left by defensive tackle Ray Kibble, whom Hayes described as a guy his teammates could count on, who was there every day, every play.

While taking over for Kibble is no small assignment, Hayes is not hesitant to tell Lutui he  needs to be what Kibble was last season.

“I would go there for sure,” Hayes said. “That’s not a problem to me. He’s the returning starter. Why shouldn’t he [have the same impact Ray had]? He played pretty well last year, but he can play a whole lot better.”

Other candidates for the interior defensive line include John Sua, Javonta Boyd, Wesley Hollingshed and two new players coming from community colleges.

“It’s going to be competitive, and once again it’s a work in progress,” Hayes said. “It’s just going to take an entire training camp to figure it out.”

***

The secondary returns cornerback Nigel Malone and free safety Ty Zimmerman, and cornerback Allen Chapman and strong safety Thomas Ferguson are expected to fill the roles left by David Garrett and Tysyn Hartman. The Wildcats have considerable depth at safety, including Kent Gainous, Randall Evans, Jarard Milo and Dante Barnett.

A starter last season, Malone nabbed seven interceptions, the most in the Big 12, but the defensive coordinator believes Malone is capable of much more.

“I think it’s given him a lot of confidence, and it should,” Hayes said. “He played good, and he played against a lot of good receivers. I expect him to do the same thing, but I expect him to be a lot better in all areas. He needs to continue to do what he’s doing, taking the ball away for us, but he needs to play the run better, he needs to play the pass better, he needs to work on his technique. There’s a lot of things he can do to get better.”

Zimmerman is a two-year starter, a two-time All-Big 12 selection and a team captain this season. Hayes said the former quarterback’s experience has helped him on the other side of the ball.

“Sometimes I think he’s knows what’s going to happen before they snap the ball because he’s played over there on that side,” Hayes said. “He understands splits and he understands check systems, he just has a feel for what’s going on. It’s something that I can’t really coach that in some cases, so I’m glad we’ve got him.”

***

Displayed on the I-70 billboard along with quarterback Collin Klein, Arthur Brown is the heart and soul of the defense. A team captain this season and All-America selection last year, the middle linebacker is joined by fellow returning starter Tre Walker and converted quarterback Justin Tuggle. While Brown often praises others for leadership, Hayes said the captain has taken a more vocal role even though it is not something that necessarily comes naturally to him.

“He’s accepted that role, the fact that he’s going to have to open up a little bit,” Hayes said. “I’ve been on his case, since I got here, about opening up more during the play or prior to the play, making calls, being vocal with our defensive team during the game. And I think he’s taken that on this year, this spring certainly, and then on into fall camp. I expect him to keep doing it. That’s not what he really wants to do. He just wants to shut up and play. That’s what he wants to do. It’s just kind of who he is. But he’s a fabulous kid. He really is.”

***

In 2011 Kansas State ranked fifth in total defense, fifth in scoring defense, sixth in pass defense and fourth in rushing defense. Although opponents outgained the Wildcats by an average of over 100 yards during Big 12 games last season, Kansas State’s fundamental soundness carried it through stressful late-game situations. Out of their 10 wins, eight came by a touchdown or less.

“I assure you, when you have success like that, at the end of games … the bottom line is that gives your team confidence,” Hayes said. “That’s just the way it is. Take from that, from 2011, not live by it, not count on it happening, but that gives your team confidence.”

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