The Kansas State Wildcats welcomed Skylar Thompson back to practice this week, but not in his traditional role.


Thompson, who suffered a season-ending injury against Texas Tech on Oct. 3 and had surgery the following week, was there to lend support with what now has become job one for the Wildcats: get the rest of their quarterbacks up to speed.


That also was the focus during K-State's bye week before turning its full attention to Saturday's 11 a.m. Sunflower Showdown against Kansas at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Not only to give true freshman Will Howard, Thompson's replacement, some valuable practice time, but also to get his backups game ready.


"We worked with Will, we worked with Nick Ast (and) we worked with Jaren Lewis," K-State coach Chris Klieman said Tuesday. "Because Jaren and Nick haven't had a ton of snaps either, so we worked all three of those guys and split a lot of those reps.


"But we gave Will a lot of different pictures from our defense. We didn't spend a ton of time truly game planning on either side of the ball, mainly because we just wanted to get back to fundamentals and techniques across the board, not just at the quarterback position."


Howard came on for Thompson in the second quarter of the Texas Tech game and led the Wildcats to a 31-21 victory, then followed that up in his first career start as they beat TCU, 21-14, on the road. But the extra week afforded the coaching staff — and Thompson — the opportunity to slow things down for him.


That also was true for Ast, a junior who backed up Thompson last year, and redshirt freshman Lewis, who missed significant practice time during preseason camp.


"I know that Will, and hopefully all the quarterbacks, improved and got a number of pictures," Klieman said.


Howard, a 6-foot-4, 230-pounder from Downingtown, Pa., already has impressed coaches and teammates alike with his demeanor and grasp of the offense. But senior running back Harry Trotter has seen him continue to progress.


"Just his control of the offense has improved a lot," Trotter said. "Will, coming in, was already a confident kid. You could tell that he had a little bit of swagger to him.


"Me, being a senior, the things I try to do is just help him with little things — timing and snap and pre-snap stuff. Skylar has done a great job helping him as well (and) I think he's just evolved a lot, just over the bye week as well."


Klieman said that Thompson, a third-year starter and team captain, will be an invaluable asset to go with quarterbacks coach Collin Klein and offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham in the development of all three quarterbacks.


"He came back on Monday (and) we had a really good conversation," Klieman said. "(He's) excited about helping the quarterbacks and he was at practice (Monday) and it was good.


"I just know those guys need his help. He sees the field so well; he sees the game. It's slowed down for him as he's played, so he'll be a great help to those guys throughout the week and on game day."


Klieman wasn't the only one who was glad to see Thompson back on the practice field.


"I think the biggest thing is (that) it's great for him," said senior tight end Briley Moore. "To be able to be back around the guys, it's just good to have his presence on the field.


"Even though he's not playing, he's standing back there, he's helping the quarterbacks, and he's helping the receivers, talking through plays and schemes and stuff. There's not a second he's not smiling, not a second he's not being positive (and) I think that just goes to show you what type of person and captain and leader that he is."


Howard also has gotten high marks for his leadership abilities.


"I've just been so impressed with Will and how he's handled stuff," Trotter said. "He's been a great leader, and if I would have just gotten here, I would think he's an older player, a veteran, just because of the way he handles himself."


Asked his criteria for grading a true freshman quarterback with a limited body of work, Klieman said he looks for certain intangibles.


"How calm he is (and) that he doesn't get ahead of himself," Klieman said. "That he's relaxed but under control, seeing things and not guessing what he's seeing, but truly seeing them.


"I've had an opportunity to sit with the quarterbacks during the morning when coach Klein is in meetings with coach Mess (Messingham) and the offensive staff, just to pick their brain and they pick my brain."


Klieman said he has especially been impressed with Lewis' progress.


"I thought Jaren Lewis had a really good week," he said of Lewis, who redshirted last season after arriving as an early enrollee out of high school in the spring of 2019. "He's a guy that was down for a while and missed a few weeks, and that's probably where Will jumped ahead of him during the fall camp.


"And then we lose Skylar, and so we have to find another guy. Nick (Ast) has done a really good job, so we gave Jaren a bunch of reps."


But Howard clearly remains the starter going forward.


"He came in very impressive from the jump, but his IQ is getting a little bit better and (he is) getting a little more comfortable commanding the offense and in the pocket," Moore said of Howard. "I'm excited to see how he continues to play, because he's a fun player.


"For him to be able to do the things he's done at such a young age, it's very impressive."