2018 Depth Chart
So here we are, the morning after the season. Which is when I do the depth chart for the following year. And this will be the least-interesting future depth chart post of all time because I just need to change six players (four starters). Pretty much the entire team returns.
Last year, with 24 seniors graduating and several freshmen coming in expecting immediate minutes, this "next year!" depth chart was insanely difficult. This year I could probably do it with one arm tied behind my back. Just makes the typing a little more difficult.
First the depth chart - with starters in bold and true freshmen in italics - and then some comments.
EDIT: removed Tre Watson, who announced a transfer. Removed Gabe Megginson who announced a transfer. Added Shaedon Meadors who is transferring in from Appalachian State.
2018 Depth Chart
QB | Thomas (SO) | George Jr. (JR) | Rivers (FR)
RB | Epstein (SO) | Brown (JR) | Bonner (SO)
FB/BTE | A. Roberts (SR) | Walker (JR-walkon) | McGrew (SR)
TE | Dorsey (SO) | Crouch (SR) | Palmer (rs-SO)
Quick-T | Boyd (SO) | Trainer (SO) | Pearl (FR)
Quick-G | Palczewski (SO) | Martin (JR) | Myers (FR)
Center | Kramer (SO) | Gavin (rs-SO) | Stover (SO-walkon)
Strong-G | Allegretti (SR) | Solomon (JR) | Daniels (FR)
Strong-T | Lowe (SO) | Cerny (rs-SO) | Slaughter (FR)
WR-X | Meadors (SR transfer) | C. Green (SO) | Reams (JR)
WR-Z | Smalling (SO) | Thieman (JR) | Mays (SR)
WR-W | Dudek (SR) | Davis (JR) | Smith (SO)
DEFENSE | | |
WDE | Gay (SO) | Carney (SO) | Pate (rs-FR)
NT | Milan (JR) | Avery (FR) | K. Green (rs-FR)
3DT | Oliver (JR) | Jackson (JR) | Odenigbo (SR)
SDE | Roundtree (SO) | Woods (SO) | Adesanya (SR)
WLB | Hansen (rs-SO) | J. Jones (SR) | Knight (SO)
MLB | Harding (JR) | Shogbonyo (SO) | J. Marchese (JR-walkon)
SLB | Phillips (SR) | Abercrombie (SO) | J. Williams (JR)
Nickel | Watkins (JR) | James (SR) | Bobak (SO)
CB | Hobbs (SO) | E. Jones (SO) | Martin (FR)
SS | Nelson (JR) | DeGroot (SO) | Clayton Jr. (SO)
FS | B. Williams (SO) | Green (JR) | Hylton (SR)
CB | Adams (SO) | Sumpter (JR) | Walker (FR)
SPECIALISTS | | |
Kicker | McLaughin (SR) | McCourt (rs-SO) |
Punter | Hayes (SO) | Baringer (rs-FR) |
Long-snapper | Mills (SO) | Tabel (SO) |
Punt Return | Dudek (SR) | Hobbs (SO) | Davis (JR)
KO Return | Brown/Hobbs | C. Green/Davis |
+ Yes, that's only four senior starters again. Meet the new depth chart, same as the old depth chart (except dominated by "SO" and not "FR").
As I usually do, I have 12 players on both sides of the ball to account for different offensive/defensive sets. When we have a fullback, it's Austin Roberts. When it's twin tight ends, go with a receiving TE (Dorsey) and a blocking TE (Walker). On defense, we're half in the base 4-3, half in the nickel (bring in the nickel corner, send out the strongside linebacker).
But if we're just talking "base offense" and "base defense", that's four senior starters. This year: Turner and DiLauro on offense, Crawford and Dunlap on defense. Next year: Dudek and Allegretti on offense, Watson and Phillips on defense. Youngest team in the country in back to back years? It's possible.
+ Linebacker is clearly the hardest position to evaluate (and remains my biggest concern, even more than quarterback). When Jake Hansen returns from his knee injury, I think he moves back into the starting lineup with DelShawn Phillips sliding from the weakside to the strongside (as he did often this year). But it could be the opposite. And Dele Harding - who I think is the best linebacker on this roster - is hard to keep out of the starting lineup. But would the coaches sit Tre Watson (or Phillips?).
Some might see this as a good thing (too many linebackers!). I kind of see it as "when you have seven linebackers who might play, you have none". We need someone to step forward and be J Leman or Jonathan Brown STAT.
+ Yes, that's nine sophomore starters on offense. Might be eight or seven depending on what we do with wide receiver but nine sophomores - NINE TIMES.
Which begins the worry of the 2021 season (yes really). My hope is for a rebuilt program, not a rebuilt team. Something sustainable year after year. Say we keep starting these nine players and they get better in 2018 and then even better in 2019 and then really good in 2020. Does that mean we pull another 2003 or 2009 and the whole thing falls off the cliff again?
Yes, it might not get better. The offense might never improve when these players get older and this whole bullet point is silly - who worries about future success after a 2-10 season. But I'll still be making this point if we go 8-4 next year and everyone is on the "Lovie forever!" bandwagon. I want us to build something sustainable. We've seen how "build one good team" works out.
+ I feel great about that defensive line rotation. Maybe not next year (although they'll be significantly better), but in 2019 and 2020 certainly. I think a four-man DE rotation of Gay/Carney plus Roundtree/Woods can be great. There's plenty of depth at defensive tackle - Milan, Oliver, and Jackson are only juniors. I feel comfortable that it will be a strength soon. Just need to add a lot of offseason strength to these freshmen (each of the next three offseasons).
I feel similar about the secondary. Adams-Hobbs-Watkins at corner and Williams-Nelson-Green at safety. All of those players are here through the 2019 season and three of them are still here in 2020. Just need to add depth behind them at this point.
Linebacker, though - linebacker could sink the whole thing.
+ I could see Calvin Avery pushing his way into the 2018 lineup, and maybe one of the freshman quarterbacks comes in and wins the job, but I'm pretty sure our record of 87 starts by true freshmen is safe next year. Might go from 87 this year (team record was 34 starts in 1977 before this year) to... 4 next year?
+ So, the big question: does everyone coming back and getting a year older (and stronger) mean significant improvement next year? Man, I have no idea. After a season like that, with November much worse than October, it certainly doesn't feel that way. We've seen it happen before, but we've really never seen it happen with a depth chart completely dominated by sophomores.
Still, we're going from the least-experienced team in college football in 2017 to perhaps the most experienced team in college football in 2019. That has to bring significant improvement during the year in-between, right?