Spring Mailbag III

I think I have enough questions for seven or eight of these. Is it bad if this site is ten to twelve consecutive days of spring football mailbag posts? I guess that would make The Seventeen happy, but that’s not really smart blogging, right? I should probably talk about something other than the third string offensive guards.

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Pre-Spring Depth Chart

Spring Practice starts in 15 days. Want to know the weird thing? For maybe only the third time in the last 30 years, those words are somewhat musical to the ears of Illini fans longing for something – anything – to prevent another look at the current Big Ten basketball standings.

OK, fine, it’s only me and the other 16 of you. But Spring Ball starts in 15 days, so we need to get prepared. [Read more...]

My Preseason Depth Chart

I always end Rantoul with my guess at the depth chart, and here it is nearly a week since I’ve been home, and I haven’t three-deep’d yet.

That’s right, three deep. Because two deeps are something Fitzee would do.

QB: Nathan Scheelhaase (SR) / Reilly O’Toole (JR) / Aaron Bailey (FR)
RB: Donovonn Young (JR) / Josh Ferguson (SO) / Dami Ayoola (SO)
TE1: Jon Davis (JR) / Matt LaCosse (JR) / Kenny Knight (SO)
TE2: Evan Wilson (SR) / Tim Clary (SO) / Tyler White (FR)
LT: Simon Cvijanovic (JR) / Dallas Hinkhouse / Austin Schmidt (FR)(JR)
LG: Michael Heitz (JR) / Joseph Spencer (rs-FR) / Harry Black (FR)
C: Alex Hill (JR) / Jake Feldmeyer (SR) / Tony Durkin (rs-SO)
RG: Teddy Karras (rs-SO) / Chris O’Connor (rs-SO) / Jesse Chadwell (FR)
RT: Corey Lewis (rs-SR) / Pat Flavin (rs-SO) / Christian DiLauro (FR)
WR1: Spencer Harris (SR) / Justin Hardee (SO) / Marchie Murdock (FR)
WR2: Miles Osei (SR) / Martize Barr (JR) / Devin Church (rs-FR)
WR3: Ryan Lankford (SR) / Steve Hull (SR) / Peter Bonahoom (rs-SO)

Leo: Houston Bates (JR) / Dejazz Woods (JR) / DJ Smoot (FR)
DT: Austin Teitsma (JR) / Teko Powell (rs-SO) / Abe Cajuste (JR)
NG: Jake Howe (JR) / Robbie Bain (rs-FR) / Bryce Douglas (FR)
DE: Tim Kynard (SR) / Kenny Nelson (rs-SO) / Chunky Clements (FR)
WLB: Jonathan Brown (SR) / Zeph Grimes (rs-SO) / Ralph Cooper (JR)
MLB: Mason Monheim (SO) / TJ Neal (rs-FR) / Henry Dickinson (rs-SO)
Star: Mike Svetina (SO) / James Crawford (FR) / BJ Bello (rs-FR)
CB: Eaton Spence (rs-SO) / Jaylen Dunlap (FR) / Caleb Day (FR)
SS: Earnest Thomas (JR) / Ben Mathis (SR) / Darwyn Kelly (FR)
FS: Taylor Barton (rs-FR) / Zane Petty (JR) / Jevaris Little (rs-FR)
CB: V’Angelo Bentley (SO) / Darius Mosely (FR) / Dillan Cazley (FR)

K: Taylor Zalewski (SO) / Ryan Frain (rs-FR) / Baron Von Miegham (rs-FR)
P: Justin DuVernois (JR) / Brad Janitz (SR) / Ryan Frain (rs-FR)
LS: Zach Hirth (rs-FR) / Michael Martin (rs-FR)
Hold: Tim Russell (SR) / Justin DuVernois (JR)
PR: V’Angelo Bentley (SO) / Darius Mosely (FR) / Martize Barr (JR)
KOR: Josh Ferguson & Miles Osei / Devin Church & Dami Ayoola

Commentary:

+ First, injuries.  I doubt Eric Finney will be ready for the opener, so I didn’t put him on there.  But I’m guessing Ben Mathis will be back by then, so I did.  And I’m not even acknowledging that Teddy Karras’ injury even happened, so he’s on there.

I should just list them.

Players who aren’t on here because of injury (I’m guessing they won’t be back for the opener): Eric Finney (Star), Vontrell Williams (defensive tackle), Chris Boles (offensive guard), Scott McDowell (offensive tackle), Trevor Kanteman (tight end).
Players who are injured but I added them to the three-deep because I’m guessing they’ll be back: Ben Mathis (safety), Teddy Karras (offensive guard), Ralph Cooper (linebacker).

+ I added two tight end positions.  If you’re super terrific at interpreting things, you might read that to mean we’re going to use a lot of tight ends at different spots on the field, like at fullback, h-back, and tight end.  And if we do that, there are five or six guys who might rotate in.

So I put together two lists.  Because the ultimate tight end is half offensive lineman, half wide receiver, I divided the lists into blockers and receivers.  I’ll let you decide which is which.

+ Putting together this two-deep made me realize that there are two players I didn’t talk about enough in Rantoul: Devin Church and Tyler White.

When Tim Beckman says he doesn’t like to talk about injuries, he doesn’t really ever want to talk about injuries.  For example, Devin Church tore his ACL in late August last year, and nobody knew about it.  Most just thought he was redshirting.  It wasn’t until this spring that we learned it was a torn ACL.

Church is fully healed now and in the mix at slot receiver.  We have four seniors at receiver this year, so it might be a year before Church starts to contribute, but he has an eye-opening burst that I think you’re going to like.

The other name is freshman tight end Tyler White.  When I talked to Alex Golesh about recruiting, when talking about finding diamonds in the rough, he lit up talking about White.  And when you watch practice, White stands out.  A senior and two juniors will lead the way, but of all the tight ends, I think White might have the best combination of blocking and pass-catching.  Two years from now, he could be pretty good.

+ Things I debated a lot before making my selection:

  • Freshman James Crawford in front of BJ Bello at Star.  Bello has a year in the system, but I like Crawford so much that I talked myself into putting him on the second string.
  • DJ Smoot over Paul James as the third string Leo.  I just think Smoot’s frame is a little more Big Ten ready.  They both need muscle, but I think James needs a little more. (I also think James has more potential, but that’s a topic for another day).
  • I considered Aaron Bailey as the backup QB.  Reilly is clearly the guy if Nate gets hurt, but if Nate stays healthy, I think Aaron Bailey will take dozens more snaps than Reilly O’Toole.
  • I really debated Hinkhouse or Schmidt for backup left tackle.  Went with Hinkhouse so that Schmidt can redshirt.  Because I want Schmidt as a three year starter in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
  • Really need to find a spot for Martize Barr and Justin Hardee, but I’m guessing the three starters at wide receiver will all be seniors.
  • Don’t really know who the punt returner will be.  I guessed Bentley.  But Mosely has a shot at it, I think.  Barr, too.

+ Because the players cover multiple positions, the offensive line is always the toughest position to three-deep.  Pat Flavin is the backup right tackle, but if Corey Lewis is out for a few series, I think Michael Heitz slides over from guard to tackle and Joe Spencer comes in at left guard.

So perhaps it’s best to list the OL backups as a nine-man rotation

Cvijanovic – Heitz – Hill – Karras – Lewis are the starters.  6th man is Joe Spencer (either guard spot).  7th guy is Jake Feldmeyer (any of the three interior spots).  8th is Pat Flavin.  9 – I’ll say OT Dallas Hinkhouse.

+ Fourteen freshmen in the defensive three deep.  14.  Fourteen.  And we’ll legitimately rotate three players at some of those positions, so ten of those 14 will probably play.  That’s… that’s a lot.

OK, I think that’s it.  Next time I’ll go five deep.  Pretty much just so I can add #Manberg.

Depth Chart Musings

My WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME moment for the week happened yesterday.  I saw the press release for the the 2013 Illini Record book, a PDF I visit quite often during the season to see how many rushing yards Steve Havard had in his career (or some such nonsense).  I didn’t flip through it at first, but then saw something on Twitter referring to the “official” preseason depth chart that was released.  WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME??

As is my usual reaction, I dig out my latest three-deep and compare it to the officially official one.  Let’s go through that exercise.  I guess I hadn’t done one since post-spring (when we didn’t know that Darius Millines and Darrius Caldwell were dismissed yet), so here’s what I had:

QB: Nathan Scheelhaase (SR) / Reilly O’Toole (JR) / Aaron Bailey (FR)
RB: Donovonn Young (JR) / Josh Ferguson (SO) / Dami Ayoola (SO)
TE: Jon Davis (JR) / Evan Wilson (SR) / Matt LaCosse (JR)
LT: Simon Cvijanovic (JR) / Scott McDowell (rs-SO) / Austin Schmidt (FR)
LG: Michael Heitz (JR) / Joseph Spencer (rs-FR) / Chris Boles (rs-SO)
C: Alex Hill (JR) / Tony Durkin (rs-SO) / Jake Feldmeyer (SR)
RG: Teddy Karras (rs-SO) / Chris O’Connor (rs-SO) / Jake Feldmeyer (SR)
RT: Corey Lewis (rs-SR) / Dallas Hinkhouse (JR) / Pat Flavin (rs-SO)
WR1: Martize Barr (JR) / Justin Hardee (SO) / Devin Church (rs-FR)
WR2: Spencer Harris (SR) / Miles Osei (SR) / Peter Bonahoom (rs-SO walkon)
WR3: Ryan Lankford (SR) / Darius Millines (SR) / Steve Hull (SR)

Leo: Houston Bates (JR) / Darrius Caldwell (rs-SO) / Dejazz Woods (JR)
DT: Austin Teitsma (JR) / Teko Powell (rs-SO) / Abe Cajuste (JR)
NG: Jake Howe (JR) / Vontrell Williams (rs-FR) / Robbie Bain (rs-FR)
DE: Tim Kynard (SR) / Kenny Nelson (rs-SO) / Paul James III (FR)
WLB: Jonathan Brown (SR) / Mike Svetina (SO) / Zeph Grimes (rs-SO)
MLB: Mason Monheim (SO) / TJ Neal (rs-FR) / Henry Dickinson (rs-SO)
Star: Eric Finney (JR) / BJ Bello (rs-FR) / Darwyn Kelly (FR)
CB: Eaton Spence (rs-SO) / Jevaris Little (rs-FR) / Dillan Cazley (FR)
SS: Earnest Thomas (JR) / Taylor Barton (rs-FR) / Nick North (rs-SO)
FS: Ben Mathis (SR) / Zane Petty (JR) / Caleb Day (FR)
CB: V’Angelo Bentley (SO) / Darius Mosely (FR) / Jeremey Whitlow (rs-SO)

K: Taylor Zalewski (rs-SO) / Ryan Frain (rs-FR) / Brennen Van Mieghem (rs-SO)
P: Justin DuVernois (JR) / Brad Janitz (JR) / Ryan Frain (rs-FR)

And here’s the official one. So that we can discuss them – that’s the whole point of this exercise here – I italicized the players who are different than my three-deep.

QB: Nathan Scheelhaase (SR) / Reilly O’Toole (JR) / Chase Haslett (SO)
RB: Donovonn Young (JR) / Josh Ferguson (SO) / Dami Ayoola (SO)
TE: Jon Davis (JR) / Evan Wilson (SR) / Matt LaCosse (JR)
LT: Simon Cvijanovic (JR) / Austin Schmidt (FR) / Dallas Hinkhouse (JR)
LG: Michael Heitz (JR) / Joseph Spencer (rs-FR) / Chris Boles (rs-SO)
C: Alex Hill (JR) /  Jake Feldmeyer (SR) / Tony Durkin (rs-SO)
RG: Teddy Karras (rs-SO) / Chris O’Connor (rs-SO) / Jesse Chadwell (FR)
RT: Corey Lewis (rs-SR) / Pat Flavin (rs-SO) / Scott McDowell (rs-SO)
WR1: Spencer Harris (SR) / Justin Hardee (SO) / Kenny Knight (rs-SO)
WR2: Miles Osei (SR) / Martize Barr (JR) / Devin Church (rs-FR)
WR3: Ryan Lankford (SR) / Steve Hull (SR) / Peter Bonahoom (rs-SO walkon)

Leo: Houston Bates (JR) / Dejazz Woods (JR)
DT: Austin Teitsma (JR) / Teko Powell (rs-SO) / Abe Cajuste (JR)
NG: Jake Howe (JR) / Vontrell Williams (rs-FR) / Robbie Bain (rs-FR)
DE: Tim Kynard (SR) / Kenny Nelson (rs-SO)
WLB: Jonathan Brown (SR) / Mike Svetina (SO) / Zeph Grimes (rs-SO)
MLB: Mason Monheim (SO) / TJ Neal (rs-FR) / Henry Dickinson (rs-SO)
Star: Eric Finney (SO) / BJ Bello (rs-FR) / Jeremey Whitlow (rs-SO)
CB: Eaton Spence (rs-SO) / Jevaris Little (rs-FR) / Nick North (rs-SO)
SS: Earnest Thomas (JR) / Ben Mathis (SR)
FS: Taylor Barton (rs-FR) / Zane Petty (JR)
CB: V’Angelo Bentley (SO) / Darius Mosely (FR) / Dillan Cazley (FR)

K: Taylor Zalewski (rs-SO)  / Brennen Van Mieghem (rs-SO) / Ryan Frain (rs-FR)
P: Justin DuVernois (JR) / Brad Janitz (JR) / Ryan Frain (rs-FR)

I have to say, nailing the entire defensive line and linebacker three-deep… I’m bursting, Jerry, I’m bursting.  You know that weird uncle who predicts the high temperature and then watches the evening news and when they say the high was 66 he screams “NAILED IT”?  That’s me right now.  Straining my shoulder to pat myself on the back.

OK, let’s go through some notable things.  Please note that the “official” depth chart only lists freshmen who enrolled early, so guys like Aaron Bailey and Caleb Day will likely find their way onto the list before all is said and done.

  • The biggest eye opener, for me, was seeing Austin Schmidt listed as the second string left tackle.  When a true freshman who enrolled early is listed as the second string left tackle before his first fall camp, you take notice.  After getting my eyes on them I ranked the three freshmen tackles Schmidt-DiLauro-Chadwell, but I didn’t see “second string left tackle” coming from Schmidt.  I’d still love to see him redshirt, but just based on this information, we might need to start thinking about Schmidt as a three or four year starter (three if he plays this year, four if he redshirts).  I’m gonna have to work on some Schmidt from New Girl lines for Austin Schmidt. Maybe something with “youthhss”.
  • I had two starters wrong.  If you read anything I wrote this spring, you know that I was a big fan of juco transfer Martize Barr at wide receiver.  And if you’ve read anything I’ve ever written ever, you know that I’m a fan of walkon safety Ben Mathis.  So I listed both as starters.  This lists both as backups, with Miles Osei the third wide receiver starter and Taylor Barton as the starter at free safety.  I still think both Barr and Mathis will play a fair bit – they’re just not listed as starters right now.
  • Two position changes I noticed.  Nick North has moved from safety to cornerback.  And Jeremey Whitlow, who just moved from wide receiver to defensive back in the spring, is now at the Star position behind Eric Finney and BJ Bello.
  • A few other second string/third string changes I noticed: Pat Flavin is second string ahead of Scott McDowell at right tackle, Baron Von Miegham (Brennen Van Miegham) is the backup kicker behind Taylor Zalewski (and in front of Ryan Frain), and Jake Feldmeyer is ahead of Tony Durkin as the backup center.

The official depth chart also listed specialists.  Zach Hirth is ahead of Michael Martin for the open long-snapper job.  Tim Russell is the only holder listed.  Punt return was a surprise: V’Angelo Bentley in front of Miles Osei (I thought Ryan Lankford or maybe even freshman Darius Mosely would be listed there).  And at kickoff return, it’s Bentley again, listed with Lankford, Osei, and Josh Ferguson.

What does all of this mean? Very little.  It will all change on Monday when the freshmen practice for the first time.  Why am I writing about it then?  Because for me, depth charts are up there with doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles.

Spring Three Deep

I think I have a pretty good handle on the depth chart at this point. The Spring Game on Friday night will be divided rosters – there’s a draft Tuesday night – so we really won’t learn much about the depth chart during the spring game. So, given what I’ve seen, here’s where I see the current three-deep. I decided to include true freshmen that will arrive this summer, so this is how I see the depth chart shaking out come August 31st (which means I’m including currently injured players like Earnest Thomas and Jonathan Brown and currently-not-practicing players like Darrius Caldwell and Darius Millines). True freshmen are in italics.

QB: Nathan Scheelhaase (SR) / Reilly O’Toole (JR) / Aaron Bailey (FR)
RB: Donovonn Young (JR) / Josh Ferguson (SO) / Dami Ayoola (SO)
TE: Jon Davis (JR) / Evan Wilson (SR) / Matt LaCosse (JR)
LT: Simon Cvijanovic (JR) / Scott McDowell (rs-SO) / Austin Schmidt (FR)
LG: Michael Heitz (JR) / Joseph Spencer (rs-FR) / Chris Boles (rs-SO)
C: Alex Hill (JR) / Tony Durkin (rs-SO) / Jake Feldmeyer (SR)
RG: Teddy Karras (rs-SO) / Chris O’Connor (rs-SO) / Jake Feldmeyer (SR)
RT: Corey Lewis (rs-SR) / Dallas Hinkhouse (JR) / Pat Flavin (rs-SO)
WR1: Martize Barr (JR) / Justin Hardee (SO) / Devin Church (rs-FR)
WR2: Spencer Harris (SR) / Miles Osei (SR) / Peter Bonahoom (rs-SO walkon)
WR3: Ryan Lankford (SR) / Darius Millines (SR) / Steve Hull (SR)

Leo: Houston Bates (JR) / Darrius Caldwell (rs-SO) / Dejazz Woods (JR)
DT: Austin Teitsma (JR) / Teko Powell (rs-SO) / Abe Cajuste (JR)
NG: Jake Howe (JR) / Vontrell Williams (rs-FR) / Robbie Bain (rs-FR)
DE: Tim Kynard (SR) / Kenny Nelson (rs-SO) / Paul James III (FR)
WLB: Jonathan Brown (SR) / Mike Svetina (SO) / Zeph Grimes (rs-SO)
MLB: Mason Monheim (SO) / TJ Neal (rs-FR) / Henry Dickinson (rs-SO)
Star: Eric Finney (JR) / BJ Bello (rs-FR) / Darwyn Kelly (FR)
CB: Eaton Spence (rs-SO) / Jevaris Little (rs-FR) / Dillan Cazley (FR)
SS: Earnest Thomas (JR) / Taylor Barton (rs-FR) / Nick North (rs-SO)
FS: Ben Mathis (SR) / Zane Petty (JR) / Caleb Day (FR)
CB: V’Angelo Bentley (SO) / Darius Mosely (FR) / Jeremey Whitlow (rs-SO)

K: Taylor Zalewski (rs-SO) / Ryan Frain (rs-FR) / Brennen Van Mieghem (rs-SO)
P: Justin DuVernois (JR) / Brad Janitz (JR) / Ryan Frain (rs-FR)

Thoughts:

+ Yeah, I don’t see many seniors either. The good news: we return nearly everyone for 2014. The bad news: 2013 will be one of our youngest teams ever.

It’s kind of crazy thinking about both basketball and football, given that Joseph Bertrand is the only senior, we have three returning juniors plus a transfer, no sophomores, and then the rest of the team true freshmen. Next year – 2013 football and 2013/14 basketball – has to be the youngest combined teams of my lifetime. We’ve had younger basketball teams (we will, after all, probably start four juniors and a senior). And I suppose if I dug far enough I could find football teams with less seniors. But combined? I can’t ever remember anything like this.

+ No, that’s not wishful thinking putting Ben Mathis as a starting safety. Yes, I’ve been demanding that Mathis get some playing time for almost three years now. But no, I’m not putting him there just because this is his last go-around. I’ve been to three practices, and he was a first string safety at all three. Earnest Thomas will start when he returns from injury, at maybe it’s Mathis that gets bumped to the second string, but I think it will be Taylor Barton (just a redshirt freshman) who comes off the bench.

Maybe juco Zane Petty, who is held out with an injury right now, gets a shot at the other starting spot next to Thomas. Or maybe one of the freshmen, like, say, Caleb Day, is surprisingly ready to start from Day One. But for now, I have Mathis and Thomas as the starting safeties.

+ Kenny Nelson is probably the player I’m not talking about enough. He’s so… long. Long arms, long legs, and he’s added weight. This team desperately needs pass rushers, and I think Nelson can get some time backing up Tim Kynard. Possibly a lot of time.

+ Forgot to mention this Friday night. Wide receiver Jeremey Whitlow has moved to defense. He was playing some cornerback on Friday night, and the official roster now lists him as a defensive back.

+ As of right now, I’d rank the three freshmen offensive tackles as follows:

1) Austin Schmidt
2) Christian DiLauro
3) Jesse Chadwell

That’s all I have to say about that.

+ I like ranking things. Let’s rank every position group in terms of experience and depth.

1) Running Back
2) Linebacker
3) Quarterback
4) Tight End
5) Offensive Line
6) Defensive Line
7) Wide Receiver
8) Safety
9) Cornerback

+ Wasn’t really sure where to put Juco defensive lineman Abe Cajuste. On Friday, with Houston Bates being held out of contact, Cajuste was at Leo, dropping into zone coverage on certain pass plays. I’ve also seen him at stongside defensive end and even at 3-technique defensive tackle (the position we recruited him for).

I guess I see the defensive line shaking out this way: If Darrius Caldwell returns from him academic issues, he backs up Houston Bates at Leo. Teitsma and Howe start at the two defensive tackle spots, with the DT’s from the 2012 class, Vontrell Williams and Teko Powell, backing them up. And Kenny Nelson backs up Tim Kynard at defensive end. And then we use Cajuste everywhere.

+ One last thing. Totally forgot holder and long snapper. I haven’t seen Miles Osei doing any holding (haven’t seen Ryan Lankford doing any punting for that matter). So I think both of them are full-time wide receivers. Tim Russell and Justin DuVernios have been doing the holding. Given that he was the holder in 2011, I’ll guess Russell wins the job.

For long snapper, it’s a battle between two redshirt freshmen. Zach Hirth from Eureka, MO and Michael Martin from Champaign Centennial. I put this at the end because I know all of you have been thirsting for my long snapper pick, and like any good blogger, I saved it for last so that you would read the entire post. Here we go. My guess for the 2013 Illini long snapper: Zach Hirth.

(There’s a tiny bit of “Illini player from the St. Louis area!” bias going on there.)

Early Look At 2013 Depth Chart

My friend Carmen sent me an email today. He, too, is an Illini Football junkie. He, too, is already thinking about the 2013 depth chart. So he sent me his ideas, along with this statement:

In reviewing the depth chart, I’m not sure how we can have a spring game. I’m serious. We don’t have four scholarship safeties or CB’s. The depth on this team is embarrassing.

He’s right – I’m not sure how we’ll have a spring game. 3 or 4 of the players on next years defensive secondary two-deep won’t be on campus yet. I don’t think we even have enough walkons to fill the spots. So it’s possible we don’t have a spring game because we won’t have a defensive secondary. THIS… is Illinois Football.

Want to see what I (er, Carmen) means? Here’s my three deep for 2013. True freshmen are in italics (i.e. won’t be here in the spring).

QB: Nathan Scheelhaase (SR) / Reilly O’Toole (JR) / Aaron Bailey (FR)
RB: Donovonn Young (JR) / Josh Ferguson (SO) / Dami Ayoola (SO)
TE: Jon Davis (JR) / Evan Wilson (SR) / Matt LaCosse (JR)
LT: Simon Cvijanovic (JR) / Scott McDowell (rs-SO) / Ryan Nowicki (SO)
LG: Michael Heitz (JR) / Alex Hill (rs-JR) / Chris O’Connor (rs-SO)
C: Jake Feldmeyer (SR) / Tony Durkin (rs-SO) / Joseph Spencer (rs-FR)
RG: Teddy Karras (rs-SO) / Robbie Bain (rs-FR) / Chris Boles (rs-SO)
RT: Corey Lewis (rs-SR) / Pat Flavin (rs-SO) / Shawn Afryl (rs-JR)
WR1: Darius Millines (SR) / Justin Hardee (SO) / Devin Church (rs-FR)
WR2: Spencer Harris (SR) / Martize Barr (JR) / Peter Bonahoom (rs-SO walkon)
WR3: Ryan Lankford (SR) / Miles Osei (SR) / Kenny Knight (SO)

Leo: Darrius Caldwell (rs-SO) / Houston Bates (JR) / John Valentine (rs-SO walkon)
DT: Austin Teitsma (JR) / Vontrell Williams (rs-FR) / Bryce Douglas (FR)
NG: Jake Howe (JR) / Teko Powell (SO) / Merrick Jackson (FR)
DE: Tim Kynard (SR) / Kenny Nelson (rs-SO) / Jarrod Clements (FR)
WLB: Jonathan Brown (SR) / Mike Svetina (SO) / Zeph Grimes (rs-SO)
MLB: Mason Monheim (SO) / Henry Dickinson (rs-SO) / Ralph Cooper (JR)
Star: Earnest Thomas (JR) / BJ Bello (rs-FR) / Joshua Jones (FR)
CB: Eaton Spence (rs-SO) / Jevaris Little (rs-FR) / Dillan Cazley (FR)
SS: Steve Hull (SR) / Taylor Barton (rs-FR) / Nick North (rs-SO)
FS: Zane Petty (JR) / Ben Mathis (SR walkon) / Darwyn Kelly (FR)
CB: V’Angelo Bentley (SO) / Darius Mosely (FR) / Reon Dawson (FR)

K: Nick Immekus (rs-JR) / Taylor Zalewski (rs-SO) / Brennen Van Mieghem (rs-SO)
P: Justin DuVernois (JR) / Brad Janitz (JR) / Garrett Stroup (rs-SO)

A few notes:

+ I’m assuming Akeem Spence leaves early (he graduates in December), and I’m assuming Jonathan Brown returns (injury plagued junior season leaves too much NFL doubt). It would be a huge boost if Spence returned, but I don’t think that’s happening. It would be a huge blow if Brown left, but I don’t think that’s happening, either. And yes, I see the irony in the words “huge blow” for a team that will get to 18 consecutive Big Ten losses before there’s even a chance at a win. But I’m setting that aside today and behaving like this depth chart will matter come August.

+ I’m putting Earnest Thomas at the hybrid “star” position because I really don’t know what to do there. Ashante Williams is now gone and TaJarvis Fuller was kicked off the team. So besides redshirt freshman BJ Bello, we really don’t have anyone to play the position. So I’m guessing Earnest Thomas will be the one playing the star.

+ With Henry Dickinson returning from a broken leg, we should have plenty of depth at linebacker. So I moved Houston Bates to Leo (weakside defensive end). Bates was headed to LSU as a defensive end, but when he switched to Illinois, we moved him to OLB. I’d like to see what he could do plus 20 lbs. at DE.

+ Even with the results of this season, on paper, the 2013 offense looks better than the 2013 defense. Everyone returns on O except for Graham Pocic and Hugh Thornton, while the defense will have huge holes on the line and in the secondary. {Insert “I saw those huge holes in the line in the last 9 games” joke here.}

+ Carmen wasn’t kidding – I’m not sure if we’ll have a spring game. For the five secondary positions (corners, safeties, and Stars), this spring, we’ll have 8 scholarship players (Bentley, Barton, Hull, Little, Spence, North, Thomas, and Bello). We need 10 to even play a spring game. Walkons like Ben Mathis and Austin Abner can fill in at safety. But who is our fourth corner? Bentley, Spence, Little, and?? Walkon Nick Forzley?

Dear prospective secondary recruits: when Tim Beckman is telling you what every coach tells you – that you have a chance to play right away – he really means it.

Depth Chart Released

My new diet: skip lunch at work and blog instead because THERE IS SO MUCH ILLINI FOOTBALL TO TALK ABOUT.

The Depth Chart has been released.  And THERE IS SO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT.  Go look it over and then come back for some thoughts.  I’ll wait.

+ Supo Sanni not listed.  STEVEHULL not listed.  So if our two starting safeties are injured and out this week, hello 450 passing yards from Alex Carder.  Come on, rain.

+ Jonathan Brown is listed as the weakside linebacker and Houston Bates is listed as the middle linebacker.  An eye-opening revelation, if it’s not a misprint.  Not a big deal – as we’ve discussed here before, we basically have a weakside middle linebacker and a strongside middle linebacker in this defense.  But still very surprising to me that Bates is the Mike.

+ Starting O-line of Thornton-Hill-Pocic-Karras-Heitz.  Well, I had that one completely wrong.  Pocic back to center to make room for both Karras and Hill at guard.  Love that, as I’m a huge fan of both (although a bigger Hill fan).  Also, no Simon Cvijanovic on the depth chart?  Is he injured?  Scott McDowell isn’t listed either – is he injured too?

+ Hey look! There’s my boy Peter Bonahoom as the second string H receiver.  Walk on, walkon.

+ Raise your hand if you guessed our backup linebackers behind Bates and Brown would be true freshmen Mike Svetina and Mason Monheim.  No one?  Didn’t think so.  Monheim over Neal (and Grimes) is somewhat surprising.  Svetina over Cooper is stunning. Although, given that Ron Zook barely moved his depth chart ever, there’s a chance I’m overreacting and many of these “listed third string” moves are simply motivational in nature.

+ Immekus is the placekicker, Zalewski handles kickoffs, DuVernois is the punter.  Makes sense.  I’d assume a redshirt is coming for Ryan Frain given this information. Also of note – looks like the battle for long-snapper next year (between Zach Hirth and Mike Martin) is currently being won by Hirth.

+ No Justin Staples mentioned, which means he’s serving a suspension for his DUI last winter.  How long that suspension will be, who knows.  I’d guess two games.

+ Miles Osei is the holder AND the backup punt returner.  AWESOME.  He’ll probably be the first Illini to complete a pass, catch a pass, take a handoff, return a punt, return a kickoff, and hold a placekick in a season.  And he might knock that out in the first game.

+ Interesting to see Robbie Bain listed as the second string left guard.  Maybe no redshirt for Bain?

+ Eddie Viliunas listed as the -OR- starter with Jon Davis at tight end. I thought that would be Evan Wilson.  We’re probably underestimating Viliunas’ impact on this team.  He might be that “who’s #83?” guy after the first few games.

+ Tommy Davis returning punts, with Osei as his backup and no mention of Hawthorne.  My read on that: after Hawthorne’s tweaked ankle in camp, they said “enough with the offense and special teams ideas – let’s keep him healthy for corner”.

+ Defensive tackle was as predictable as any depth chart positioning in history.  Spence backed up by Howe, Foster backed up by Teitsma.  Lock of all locks.

+ I think it’s safe to say that if a true freshman appears on this depth chart, they intend to play them (and not redshirt).  So that would mean Robbie Bain, Justin Hardee, Dami Ayoola, Mason Monheim, Mike Svetina, TaJarvis Fuller, and V’Angelo Bentley will not redshirt.  Maybe TJ Neal, too, but Neal is listed as a third stringer, so maybe he doesn’t play.

+ One more note: from the pronunciation guide, it’s DAY-mi, not DAH-mi.  Dami Ayoola = DAY-mi uh-YOU-la.  Get used to that name.

Rantoul2012 XXXII: Post-Camp Three Deep

Now that Camp Rantoul has come to a close and Camp Hawthorn has begun (no, not Black Cat – the team is staying at the Hawthorn Suites for a week as camp moves back to campus), I’d say it’s time to look at an updated three-deep. These aren’t official depth charts released by the coaching staff or anything – just my feelings on how the depth chart will shake out come September 1st.

Offensive line is probably the hardest here. They’ve tried Michael Heitz and guard and tackle, tried Alex Hill and Teddy Karras with the first string, etc etc. I’m also splitting my tailbacks and my tight ends like I did last time – each will have a slightly different role, so I’m going with a power category and a speed category:

QB: Nathan Scheelhaase (JR) / Reilly O’Toole (SO) / Miles Osei (JR)
Scat-RB: Josh Ferguson (rs-FR) / Miles Osei (JR) / Devin Church (FR)
Power-RB: Donovonn Young (SO) / Dami Ayoola (FR) / LaKeith Walls (FR)
Split-TE: Jon Davis (SO) / Matt LaCosse (SO) / Tim Russell (JR walkon)
Power-TE: Evan Wilson (JR) / Eddie Viliunas (SR) / Justin Lattimore (JR)
LT: Hugh Thornton (SR) / Scott McDowell (rs-FR) /  Ryan Nowicki (rs-FR)
LG: Graham Pocic (SR) / Alex Hill (rs-SO) / Robbie Bain (FR)
C: Jake Feldmeyer (JR) / Tony Durkin (rs-FR) / Joseph Spencer (FR)
RG: Michael Heitz (rs-SO) / Teddy Karras (rs-FR) / Chris Boles (rs-FR)
RT: Simon Cvijanovic (rs-SO) / Pat Flavin (rs-FR) / Shawn Afryl (rs-SO)
WR1: Darius Millines (JR) / Jeremy Whitlow (rs-FR) / Peter Bonahoom (rs-FR walkon)
WR2: Spencer Harris (JR) / Fritz Rock (rs-SO) / Tim Lukas (JR walkon)
WR3: Ryan Lankford (JR) / Kenny Knight (rs-FR) / Justin Hardee (FR)

Leo: Michael Buchanan (SR) / Darrius Caldwell (rs-FR) / John Valentine (rs-FR walkon)
DT: Glenn Foster (SR) / Austin Teitsma (rs-SO) / Teko Powell (FR)
NG: Akeem Spence (JR) / Jake Howe (rs-SO) / Vontrell Williams (FR)
DE: Justin Staples (SR) / Tim Kynard (JR) / Kenny Nelson (rs-FR)
WLB: Houston Bates (rs-SO) / Ralph Cooper (SO) / Zeph Grimes (rs-FR)
MLB: Jonathan Brown (JR) / Henry Dickinson (SO) / Mason Monheim (FR)
Star: Ashante Williams (SR) / TaJarvis Fuller (FR) / BJ Bello (FR)
CB: Terry Hawthorne (SR) / Eaton Spence (rs-FR) / Jevaris Little (FR)
SS: Steve Hull (JR) / Earnest Thomas (rs-SO) / Ben Mathis (JR walkon)
FS: Supo Sanni (SR) / Patrick Nixon-Youman (SR) / Tommy Davis (SR)
CB: Justin Green (SR) / Jack Ramsey (SR) / V’Angelo Bentley (FR)

K: Nick Immekus (rs-SO) / Taylor Zalewski (rs-FR) / Brennen Van Mieghem (rs-FR)
P: Justin DuVernois (SO) / Ryan Frain (FR) / Garrett Stroup (rs-FR)

A few notes:

+ I think STEVEHULL will start if healthy, but he’s been out since the spring with this shoulder injury, and played only sparingly when I saw him in Rantoul.  There’s a good chance Earnest Thomas is our starting strong safety against Western Michigan.

+ Same goes for Justin Staples and Tim Kynard.  I think that position deserves the dreaded “OR”.  Kynard in obvious run situations, Staples as a pass-rush specialist.

+ I went with a Thornton-Pocic-Feldmeyer-Heitz-Cvijanovic line, but I still like Alex Hill to make some noise (Teddy Karras, too).

+ Freshmen that I have on the third string that might make a move to the second string before too long: V’Angelo Bentley, Zeph Grimes, Joseph Spencer, and Justin Hardee.

+ I’m switching to Nick Immekus as the starting kicker after what I saw in Champaign.  I’ll go with Zalewski as the kickoff guy and Immekus as the placekicker.  I’ll also say that Ryan Frain pushes Justin DuVernois for the punting job.

+ If Akeem Spence and Jonathan Brown entertain the NFL after the season, this defense loses nine starters.  Nine.  Only Houston Bates and STEVEHULL would return.  Ouch, 2013.

Inventory Part III – Let’s Turn That Into A 3-Deep

Figured I’d take those last two inventory posts and compile them into a three-deep.

QB: Nathan Scheelhaase (JR) / Reilly O’Toole (SO) / Chase Haslett (rs-FR)
Scat-RB: Josh Ferguson (rs-FR) / Miles Osei (JR) / Devin Church (FR)
Power-RB: Donovonn Young (SO) / Zach Becker (SR) / Ean Days (rs-SO) / Dami Ayoola (FR)
Split-TE: Jon Davis (SO) / Matt LaCosse (SO) / Tim Russell (JR walkon)
Power-TE: Evan Wilson (JR) / Eddie Viliunas (SR) / Justin Lattimore (JR)
LT: Simon Cvijanovic (rs-SO) / Scott McDowell (rs-FR) / Josiah VanderHeyden (SO-walkon)
LG: Hugh Thornton (SR) / Alex Hill (rs-SO) / Chris Boles (rs-FR)
C: Graham Pocic (SR) / Jake Feldmeyer (JR) / Tony Durkin (rs-FR)
RG: Teddy Karras (rs-FR) / Tyler Sands (SR) / Joseph Spencer (FR)
RT: Michael Heitz (rs-SO) / Pat Flavin (rs-FR) / Shawn Afryl (rs-SO)
WR1: Darius Millines (JR) / Jeremy Whitlow (rs-FR) / Kenny Knight (rs-FR)
WR2: Spencer Harris (JR) / Jordan Frysinger (rs-FR) / Peter Bonahoom (rs-FR walkon)
WR3: Ryan Lankford (JR) / Fritz Rock (rs-SO) / Anthony Williams (rs-SO)

Leo: Michael Buchanan (SR) / Brandon Denmark (JR) / Darrius Caldwell (rs-FR)
DT: Glenn Foster (SR) / Austin Teitsma (rs-SO) / Chris O’Connor (rs-FR)
NG: Akeem Spence (JR) / Jake Howe (rs-SO) / Dejazz Woods (rs-SO)
DE: Justin Staples (SR) / Tim Kynard (JR) / Kenny Nelson (rs-FR)
WLB: Houston Bates (rs-SO) / Henry Dickinson (SO) / Mason Monheim (FR)
MLB: Jonathan Brown (JR) / Ralph Cooper (SO) / TJ Neal (FR)
Star: Ashante Williams (SR) / TaJarvis Fuller (FR) / Zeph Grimes (rs-FR)
CB: Terry Hawthorne (SR) / Eaton Spence (rs-FR) / Jevaris Little (FR)
FS: Steve Hull (JR) / Ben Mathis (JR-walkon) / Earnest Thomas (rs-SO)
SS: Supo Sanni (SR) / Patrick Nixon-Youman (SR) / Nick North (rs-FR)
CB: Justin Green (SR) / Jack Ramsey (SR) / V’Angelo Bentley (FR)

K: Taylor Zalewski (rs-FR) / Nick Immekus (rs-SO) / Brennen Van Mieghem (rs-FR) / Ryan Frain (FR)
P: Justin DuVernois (SO) / Brad Janitz (rs-SO) / Garrett Stroup (rs-FR)

A few thoughts (although most of this was already covered in Part I and Part II.

+ Because it appears we’ll have a few different positions in the offensive backfield, and because I refuse to use lame Northwestern-y words like “superback”, I’ve named the four backfield positions.  I’m splitting the tailbacks into “Power-RB” and “Scat-RB” (for lack of a better term), and I’m splitting the tight ends into “Split-TE” and “Power-TE”.  I realize that “split tight end” is an oxymoron that makes my father roll over in his grave (he was a split end as a junior in high school and a tight end as a senior according to numerous high school reports), but that’s the best I can do.

I’ll describe it this way: say we run the West Virginia Orange Bowl Clemson Killer play, the shovel sweep.  Nate is in the shotgun, Donovonn Young behind him, Josh Ferguson split out to the right (with Darius Millines out wide), Evan Wilson at Tight End and Jon Davis split out as a receiver.  Ferguson goes in motion and a timed snap reaches Nate just before Ferguson arrives.  If it’s a shovel sweep, Nate flips the ball to a speeding Ferguson right in front of him, and Wilson and Davis are on the edge blocking for him.  If it’s a fake shovel sweep, he fakes the flip and hands to the power back (Young) for a standard dive play.  If he fakes both of those, he has multiple tight ends and a wide receiver to throw to.

Two positions, dozens of different looks in a spread.  That’s why I feel the need to break our depth chart into things like “scat-RB” and “power-TE”.

+ Why do I always forget Brandon Denmark?  Shame on me.  I don’t think I even mentioned him in Part II.

This year, it’s mostly Justin Staples and Michael Buchanan getting after the quarterback.  In 2013, it’s a combination of Tim Kynard, Brandon Denmark, and Darrius Caldwell.  Caldwell can then begin his world domination in 2014 and 2015.

+ Player I’m the least sure what to do with, but the most sure he’ll be a major contributor down the road:  Zeph Grimes.  He was the Scout Team Defensive Player of the Year, and guys that win that award (like this guy named Whitney Mercilus) are usually players to watch in the future.  But I’m not sure if he’ll be a star linebacker or if he’s more the inside type.  I’m 63% certain I saw him playing some Will Linebacker in the spring game, but that’s not enough for me to move him to Will.  So I’ll keep him a star linebacker for now.

+ I also put some incoming freshmen in this three-deep.  Guys like V’Angelo Bentley and Dami Ayoola.  And, of course, future superStar TaJarvis Fuller.

Signing Day Is Wednesday – Let’s Peek At The 3-Deep Again

Next to hiking in the mountains with my wife and looking at gif images of a confused Pat Fitzgerald (click on it – no, seriously, click on it), my favorite thing to do in the world is to put together an Illini football depth chart.  I love it so much that I go three-deep.  Because it’s one more than two.

With signing day coming up next Wednesday, I thought I might go through the three-deep again to see if our current class is lining up with our future needs.  I’m not gonna lie – Terry Hawthorne, Michael Buchanan, and Akeem Spence flirting with the NFL but returning to school makes this three-deep much more attractive.

I have to make a few guesses with this depth chart.  We don’t really know the schemes that Gonzales/Beatty and Banks will run, so I really don’t know if I should put down four wide receivers or two tight ends.  So I’ll try to cover all positions on offense (except for fullback), and I’ll return us to a basic 4-3 defense with no bandits or Busseybackers.  I’m also taking out the weak/strong offensive line and going back to having a left tackle and a right tackle.

QB: Nathan Scheelhaase (JR) / Reilly O’Toole (SO) / Chase Haslett (rs-FR)
RB: Donovonn Young (SO) / Josh Ferguson (rs-FR) / Ean Days (SO)
TE: Evan Wilson (JR) / Jon Davis (SO) / Justin Lattimore (JR) / Matt LaCosse (SO)
LT: Simon Cvijanovic (rs-SO) / Patrick Flavin (rs-FR) / Chris Boles (rs-FR)
LG: Hugh Thornton (SR) / Tyler Sands (SR) / Ted Karras (rs-FR)
C: Graham Pocic (SR) / Jake Feldmeyer (JR) / Tony Durkin (rs-FR)
RG: Alex Hill (rs-SO) / Shawn Afryl (rs-SO) / Kevin Griffin (rs-SO walkon)
RT: Michael Heitz (rs-SO) / Corey Lewis (SR) / Scott McDowell (rs-FR)
WR1: Darius Millines (JR) / Jeremy Whitlow (rs-FR) / Kenny Knight (rs-FR)
WR2: Spencer Harris (JR) / Jordan Frysinger (rs-FR) / Fritz Rock (rs-SO)
WR3: Ryan Lankford (JR) / Miles Osei (JR) / Jake Kumerow (SO-walkon)

DE: Michael Buchanan (SR) / Justin Staples (SR) / Brandon Denmark (JR)
DT: Glenn Foster (SR) / Jake Howe (rs-SO) / Chris O’Connor (rs-FR)
DT: Akeem Spence (JR) / Austin Teitsma (rs-SO) / John Valentine (rs-FR walkon)
DE: Tim Kynard (JR) / DJ Woods (rs-SO) / Kenny Nelson (rs-FR)
WLB: Houston Bates (rs-SO) / Henry Dickinson (SO) / Beau Sullivan (JR walkon)
MLB: Jonathan Brown (JR) / Ralph Cooper (SO) / Alex Porter (SO walkon)
SLB: Ashante Williams (SR) / Earnest Thomas (rs-SO) / Zephaniah Grimes (rs-FR)
CB: Terry Hawthorne (SR) / Eaton Spence (rs-FR) / Kaeman Mitchell (JR walkon)
FS: Steve Hull (JR) / Ben Mathis (JR-walkon) / Austin Abner (rs-FR walkon)
SS: Supo Sanni (SR) / Patrick Nixon-Youman (SR) / Nick North (rs-FR)
CB: Justin Green (SR) / Valdon Cooper (SO) / Jack Ramsey (SR)

K: Taylor Zalewski (rs-FR) / Nick Immekus (rs-SO) / Brennen Van Mieghem (rs-FR)
P: Justin DuVernois (SO) / Brad Janitz (rs-SO) / Garrett Stroup (rs-FR)

So next year looks very defense-y.  2013 looks very offense-y.  And 2014 looks very scary.

With Hawthorne, Buchanan, and Spence back, Tim Banks has a lot to work with next year.  The loss of Mercilus, Thomas, Wilson, and Henry will be large – I have no idea who will be the nickel corner next year (Jack Ramsey?) – but there are some legitimate stars in Jonathan Brown, Terry Hawthorne, Michael Buchanan, and Akeem Spence.  Get a few big senior years from Justin Green and Glenn Foster and maybe this defense won’t take that large of a step back.

But in 2013, from this view, yikes.  Gone are Buchanan, Foster, Williams, Hawthorne, Sanni, Green, and PNY, with a good chance Akeem Spence declares early and also the possibility of Jonathan Brown leaves. Good luck, Tim Banks.

The good news is, the offense should be solid in 2013.  Next year we’ll likely only have 2 seniors contributing – Hugh Thornton and Graham Pocic.  Every other position – even going 4 deep at tailback and 6 deep at receiver – there are no seniors.  What we see next year is basically what we’ll see in 2013.

But in 2014, from this view, yikes.  We’ll lose almost all of our passing game (Scheelhaase and possibly his top 4 targets) and maybe a few more offensive linemen.  Reilly O’Toole will have to develop a rapport with a whole new crop of receivers.

Now, at this point I realize the ridiculousness of projecting the 2014 team.  60% of those players aren’t even on the roster yet.  But that’s why I’m doing this.  I’m trying to find our needs in a few years.  Football recruiting isn’t about next year – it’s about recruiting for 2-3 seasons from now.  What are our needs then?  In order:

  1. Secondary.  After next season, we’ll have 4 scholarship players in the secondary: Steve Hull, Valdon Cooper, Eaton Spence, and Nick North.  We should have 8 or 9.
  2. Defensive Line.  Defensive Tackle more than Defensive End, but we need both.
  3. Running Back.  No seniors, no juniors.  At tailback right now we have Donovonn Young, Josh Ferguson, and converted safety Ean Days.  We should have 5 or 6 on the roster.
  4. Offensive Tackle.  We have a lot of guard-and-center types, but I only see 4 true tackles.  I’d like to see two more.

So how does the current class break down?

QB – 0
RB – 2
OL – 3 (2 OG/C, 1 OT)
TE – 0
WR – 3
DE – 0
DT – 2
LB – 2
CB – 1
S – 2
K – 1

Combine those two lists, and here’s where it leaves us: with issues defending the pass.  In a few years we’ll be woefully short at defensive end, cornerback, and safety. We’ve spent a lot of time recruiting bandits (undersized defensive ends that can also line up on a slot receiver like Brandon Denmark and Darrius Caldwell), and now we’ll be asking them to play more of a traditional defensive end role.

On offense, we’ve addressed the tailback situation (although we’ll need two more tailbacks next year), but I still feel we’re short at offensive tackle.  And what happens at receiver after the Millines/Lankford/Harris trio graduates?  One more thing – we’ll need a QB in next year’s class who can come in and understudy for a few years.

So in the next 5 days, I’d sure love to close on a few defensive linemen (I’m looking at you, Vincent Valentine) and maybe another cornerback (hi there, Sean Draper).  And next year, a QB, a few offensive tackles, a stud receiver, a monster defensive end, two athletic corners, and a ballhawking safety are desired, nay, required.  It’s only the most important recruiting class of your career – no pressure, Coach Beckman.