2019 Three-Deep

Nov 27, 2018

Because the Big Ten usually hands us our bye week in September (the good programs get the midseason bye weeks, as it probably should be), I generally put together my "next season" depth chart that week and then tweak it after the season. And then I tweak it after spring ball. And then I tweak it during the summer.

So here's version two (of four or five) of my 2019 Illini depth chart with the true freshmen in italics. Subtitle: actual upperclassmen on the field!

QB | Rivers (SO) | Williams (FR) | Robinson (rs-FR)
RB | Corbin (SR) -OR- Epstein (JR) | Bonner (JR) | Brown (SR)
TE | Barker (SO) | B. Walker (SR) | Palmer (JR)
LT | Lowe (JR) | Cerny (rs-JR) | Kirts (FR)
LG | K. Green (rs-SO) | Stover (SO-walkon) | Martin (SR)
C | Kramer (rs-JR) | Gavin (rs-JR) | Clark (FR)
RG | Boyd (rs-SO) | Myers (rs-FR) | Solomon (SR)
RT | Palczewski (JR) | Trainer (rs-JR) | Slaughter (rs-FR)
WR1 | Davis (SR) | Carter (rs-FR) | Washington (FR)
WR2 | Smalling (JR) | Reams (SR) | Navarro (SO walkon)
WR3 | Stampley (JR) | Sandy (SO) | Holmes (SO walkon)
WDE | Carney (JR) | Gay (JR) | Shogbonyo (JR)
DT | Milan (SR) | Avery (SO) | V. Brown (rs-FR)
DT | Oliver (SR) | Jackson (SR) | Pate (SO)
SDE | Roundtree (JR) | Woods (rs-SO) | Pearl (rs-FR)
WLB | Hansen (JR) | Tolson (SO) | Knight (JR)
MLB | Harding (SR) | Eifler (JR) | Hollins (rs-FR)
Nickel | Ware (SO) | Thompson (FR) | Bobak (JR-walkon)
CB | Hobbs (JR) | Q. Martin (SO) | Hardge (SO)
SS | S. Brown (SO) | M. Marchese (JR) | Smith (JR)
FS | Adams (JR) | S. Green (SR) | Joseph (SO)
CB | Watkins (SR) | Beason (FR) | Wyatt (SO)
Kicker | McCourt (JR) | Griffin (rs-FR)
Punter | Hayes (JR) | McCourt (JR)
Longsnapper | Tabel (JR) | Gaines (rs-FR)
Holder | Hayes (JR) | C. Miller (JR)
Punt Return | Beason (FR) | Hobbs (JR) | Holmes (SO walkon)
KO Return | D. Brown/Stampley | Norwood/Sandy

Some thoughts:

  • Can you believe it? 16 upperclassmen in the starting 22. It's a Festivus miracle!
  • I'm still not sure where super-recruit Marquez Beason will end up. With the issues at wide receiver this fall, I think most Illini fans want to see him at receiver. I originally had him a nickel - I want to see him flying around making plays like Jabril Peppers did at Michigan (and then returning punts) - but maybe cornerback is the spot?
  • And really, I feel like that secondary chart will change a ton before next season. Is Ware going to be a nickel or was that just temporary this year? Adams moved to safety after Bennett Williams was dismissed - is that permanent or temporary? Cam Watkins - corner or nickel? Sydney Brown - nickel (where he started for half the season) or strong safety (where he started for the other half of the season)? With Beason coming in maybe Quan Martin follows Adams to free safety? Yeah, write those down in pencil.
  • Offensive line is the most encouraging, don't you think? Lowe, Green, Kramer, and Palcho all return and none of them are seniors. Allegretti departs, but Larry Boyd returns, he of nine starts as a true freshman in 2017. So really, you have an entire offensive line with one or two years of starting experience and not a single one is a senior.
  • Wide receiver is the opposite, no? Not only did we receive disappointing seasons from nearly every receiver, two of the three receivers in the recruiting class decommitted this fall. So every single guy on that list has question marks. Is Smalling's sophomore slump over with the Northwestern performance? Can Trenard Davis be the reliable senior? Can Stampley fix the drops? Is Carter's knee put back together? OK, I'll give you a hopeful one - is Donny Navarro the next Fej, transferring to Illinois as a walkon after one great year in a lower division (Navarro sat out this past season after transferring in from Valpo) and then proving he's a real weapon?
  • Defensive line seems like the deepest position on the team (and it matters, a lot, that everyone gets a year older). When I'm putting together a depth chart like this and I think "oh, right, 4-star Verdis Brown will be playing, I have to find somewhere to get him in the rotation", then that's the kind of position where I expect a step forward. And I'm not including Lere Oladipo at all, pending the outcome of his arrest (and his standing as a student with the school).

When looking for position battles, really, with only a few seniors graduating, I only see four on the entire team:

  1. Who wins the QB battle? Is it sophomore MJ Rivers? Freshman Isaiah Williams? Sleeper candidate Matt Robinson (who only played in three games and retained his redshirt? Maybe, I don't know, a fifth year transfer from somewhere Rod Smith coached before who might appear on preseason Heisman lists?
  2. Who replaces Allegretti at right guard? I believe the heavy favorite is Larry Boyd, but there's a chance that one of the older guys (Jake Cerny? Adam Solomon?) or maybe even one of the younger guys (Kievan Myers?) slides in there.
  3. Who replaces Del'Shawn Phillips at linebacker? I think that one is fairly easy. When there are three linebackers on the field (20% of the time), it's Hansen, Harding, and Eifler (the Washington transfer). When there are only two + a nickel (80% of the time), Hansen stays on the field but it's a battle between Harding and Eifler for the other spot.
  4. Placekicker is a battle between the redshirt junior (James McCourt, a Cubit recruit) and the redshirt freshman (Caleb Griffin, a Lovie recruit). Both are on scholarship (did you know that we had THREE scholarship kickers this season?).

That's really it. Austin Roberts graduates, but I'm guessing that blocking tight end spot just goes to his backup (Bobby Walker) and there's no real "position battle".

OK, so how do I feel about all of that? Don't ask me yet. This season still stings. These are mostly the players who lost 63-0 to Iowa, and even though they all get a year older, it's a long way back from 63-0. I love the leap potential of a team who really only lost five seniors and moves from a team of sophomores and freshmen to a team of juniors and sophomores, but again, 63-0.

Sixty three to zero.


San Joaquin on November 27 @ 02:32 PM CST

Great post. I am hoping with linebacker it is the best two on the field all the time, with Hansen having to earn it as one of them. He missed a lot of gap assignments against the run last season. As much as I look forward to watching the offensive line excel in the run game again next season, a lot of that is negated by blown assignments within the run defense.

I have seen Tate in person. Arizona at Cal two seasons ago. He's electric.

AyBayBalas on November 27 @ 03:07 PM CST

I would love to see us slide Kendrick over to center (he played it in HS) and put Boyd and Myers at the guards. Those are some boys that can pave the way for Reggie and Epstein and maybe Tate and eventually Isaiah.

Then you spread em out when they stack the box with some quick hitters that hopefully guys don't drop. Just add some possession receivers and focus on the run game.

Get a few higher end recruits/transfers and trust the staff to fill in the rest of the class, improve the defensive coaching and the DL, and make Rod Smith highly paid, that's all I'm looking for this offseason.

deadguy on November 28 @ 11:34 PM CST

Not to be one of those but Kendrick hasn't played OC since he was a Fresman in High School. That's where he started for Peoria High but then was moved around the line for the rest of his time there.

As Robert has stated plenty of times, the idea is to have guys get as many starts at one position on the line as possible. Slide in Boyd at RG and hope the OL can stay healthy once again. I don't know why you want Kramer out?

I do question who the back up OC will be. I know Robert has it as Gavin but the real back up was NA the past two years. Hopefully Kramer is healthy all year and we never have to worry about it but I wouldn't be shocked if it ended up being Clark. I know Kramer played hurt this year, however.

Dr. Chim Richalds on November 27 @ 09:14 PM CST

Did Carmoni Green announce he's transferring, or has he fallen out of the receiver rotation entirely?

Bear8287 on November 28 @ 10:21 AM CST

Sixty three to ...

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IBFan on November 28 @ 07:57 PM CST

Thanks Robert! I was already craving an update. Looking soooo much better. Can we add another layer of depth again then that cliff won't happen? Huge influx from redshirts and new recruits, me likey.

John Case on November 29 @ 11:29 AM CST

The problems at Illinois this Fall when I watched were developmental. That Dline didn't play hard. It jumped off the screen the lack of compete. The drops at wide receiver were middle school level. And it wasn't 1 guy. Also, Smalling was awful against Northwestern catching the ball so I'm not getting how that was a resurgence. He's got a lot of work to do this offseason. He's got the tools but wow, his drops........ Can the Dline coach get his guys to work and compete?

John Case on November 29 @ 12:02 PM CST

Also, the recruit in this class who is the biggest project but has the highest or second highest ceiling is Seth Coleman. He needs to add a lot of weight to his lower body but he's a freak athlete with a really high motor/compete. He's really a similar version to Whitney Mercilus with his compete and suddenness/quickness coming out of HS. I think Okpala has the highest ceiling for what its worth.

1970 John on November 30 @ 10:32 AM CST

I just get this gut feeling that this team comes back next year and makes this year's blowouts look improbable, that the Dline is transformed, that there's the kind of progress across the board that comes with maturation. Can't we have that kind of Peter Parker morning where he goes to the mirror and sees a massive transformation. I know that gut feeling comes from drinking too much Orange and Blue Koolaid, but I want to believe it, so at least the next nine months can be positive before the more realistic 2019 season kicks in. But I really look forward to Iowa next year.

Bear8287 on December 01 @ 10:39 AM CST

I know that gut feeling comes from drinking too much Orange and Blue Koolaid, but I want to believe it,

Well, isn't that why most of us are reading IB? :-D
... and while you're at it, please pass me the Koolaid.

CapitalCityOutlaw50 on November 30 @ 02:35 PM CST

Prediction: Williams doesn't play QB, and Drake Davis overtakes at least Robinson.

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