Post-Spring Depth Chart 2018
There was only one spring practice where we got to see the depth chart played out live. And because they were tackling, they held several starters out. So this is one of the tougher post-spring depth charts I've done. So much to learn come August.
Let's get right to it and then talk about it. Starters in bold. True freshmen, most of whom aren't here yet, in italics.
QB | Thomas (SO) | Bush (SR) | Rivers (FR)
RB | Epstein (SO) | D. Brown (JR) | Bonner (SO)
TE/HB | Dorsey (SO) | Reams (JR) | Walker (JR)
LT | Cerny (rs-SO) | Boyd (SO) | Unije (FR)
LG | Palczewski (SO) | Solomon (JR) | Myers (FR)
C | Kramer (rs-SO) | Gavin (rs-SO) | Stover (rs-FR walkon)
RG | Allegretti (SR) | Martin (JR) | Slaughter (FR)
RT | Lowe (SO) | Trainer (rs-SO) | Pearl (FR)
WR-X | Meadors (SR transfer) | C. Green (SO) | Mays (SR)
WR-Z | Smalling (SO) | Davis (JR) | J. Williams (JR)
WR-W | Dudek (SR) | Greene (SR transfer) | Sandy (FR)
DEFENSE | | |
WDE | Gay (SO) | Carney (SO) | Shogbonyo (rs-SO)
NT | Milan (JR) | Avery (FR) | V. Brown (FR)
3DT | Oliver (JR) | K. Green (rs-FR) | Jackson (JR)
SDE | Roundtree (SO) | Woods (SO) | Oladipo (rs-FR)
WLB | Hansen (rs-SO) | Mondesir (SO) | Tolson (FR)
MLB | Harding (JR) | J. Marchase (JR) | Hollins (FR)
SLB | Phillips (SR) | Knight (SO) | McEachern (rs-FR walkon)
Nickel | Watkins (JR) | Hardge III (FR) | Ware (FR)
CB | Hobbs (SO) | E. Jones (SO) | Martin (FR)
SS | B. Williams (SO) | DeGroot (SO) | S. Brown (FR)
FS | S. Green (JR) | Smith (SO) | Joseph (FR)
CB | Adams (SO) | Walker (SO) | Wyatt (FR)
SPECIALISTS | | |
Kicker | McLaughin (SR) | McCourt (rs-SO) | Griffin (FR)
Punter | Hayes (SO) | McCourt (rs-SO) |
Long-snapper | Mills (SO) -OR- Tabel (SO)
Punt Return | Dudek (SR) | Hobbs (SO) | Davis (JR)
KO Return | D. Brown/Hobbs | C. Green/Davis |
OK, let's talk about it.
+ Yes, there are barely any seniors again. I'm showing four senior starters above - three I'm fairly certain of (Dudek, Allegretti, and Phillips) and one maybe (Appalachian State WR transfer Shaedon Meadors). I guess it's five if you count placekicker Chase McLaughlin.
If we go with 24 starters - 11 on offense, 11 on defense (drop the nickel corner), and kicker + punter - here's the breakdown:
That freshman number won't stay at zero. Lovie will want to get his second class involved early (just like he did with his first class). So guys like Calvin Avery (or maybe one of the freshman quarterbacks) will probably push their way into the starting lineup sooner rather than later.
I worked my way up to "the 2017 Illini were the youngest college football team this decade" last fall. I think I might be ready to declare them the youngest team of the modern era. It's just so insane to go three full seasons starting only 3-5 seniors (as we'll likely do in 2017, 2018, and 2019).
+ Quarterback is still one big toss-up. Four guys will enter the picture at camp - the three freshmen plus fifth-year transfer AJ Bush. Thomas has a head start - both this spring plus starting a few games last fall - but I think it will be a wide open competition.
+ Tight end is the most difficult to project. Perhaps I should add back in the two categories - one for tight end and one for H-back. I need to see more than just Saturday's 80 plays to see how they're going to rotate players there.
For example, since this offense no longer has a fullback, Austin Roberts is now at tight end. Will that be a blocking role while a guy like Caleb Reams - moved back to tight end after last year at wide receiver - is more of an H-Back? A guy like Griffin Palmer (or incoming freshman Daniel Barker) - where do they fit?
Much to be learned there in August.
+ If you wondered why Lovie signed so many defensive backs in February, well, here you go. I break it out into five spots (including nickel corner), and those spots have 7 returning players, 1 position change (Kendall Smith moved from wide receiver to safety), and SEVEN newcomers (six freshmen and a juco transfer).
The starting spots seem known - Bennett Williams and Stanley Green at safety, and then a rotation of Nate Hobbs, Tony Adams, and Cam Watkins at the three corner positions. But I think every single backup spot is up for grabs. It could very well be five true freshmen.
+ The defensive line remains the deepest position. I listed 16 players on the three-deep and still didn't have room for a redshirt freshman like Deon Pate or a true freshman like Ezekiel Holmes.
And it's not just having a lot of names there - it was difficult to put together the three-deep because there's so much talent there. Will four-stars Calvin Avery and Verdis Brown really be second and third string? Between Roundtree, Gay, Woods, and Carney, who are the starters at defensive end?
Youth is the only drawback. The top eight go two juniors, four sophomores, and two freshmen. Which means that this year they're still probably a year away. And in 2019 they should be dominant. And in 2020 they should have a national reputation.
+ In the spring scrimmage, redshirt-sophomore Jake Cerny was ahead of true sophomore (and last year's starter) Larry Boyd at left tackle. Boyd played on the second string line at both guard and tackle. When he was a guard, he was at right guard, which tells me they might see him as Nick Allegretti's replacement at right guard next season after Allegretti graduates.
So working backwards, I think next year's line is Cerny-Palcho-Kramer-Boyd-Lowe (all juniors). Which would mean that this year's line is a battle between Cerny and Boyd at left tackle and then Palcho-Kramer-Allegretti-Lowe. (And then the four freshmen will arrive and change everything up.)
+ Overall, last year was a freshman-dominated team, this year will be a sophomore-dominated team, 2019 wil be all about the juniors, and 2020 will be the seniors. The question then becomes how many of the incoming freshmen (not just this class but the next two classes) will get an opportunity to play right away.
For example, say Marquez Beason ends up at cornerback. He's likely to start from day one of his freshman year, but who does he replace? When he gets here in 2019 he'll be looking at two juniors and a senior with a combined 60+ games starting experience. How do you get the freshman on the field?
The same goes for quarterback. There's this big battle at August camp and someone emerges as the winner. Will that player then... get benched in favor of Isaiah Williams in 2019? If we land Jahleel Billingsley at tight end, can he break into the rotation right away?
These are good problems to have. When you have those problems, you're likely winning a fair number of games.
Let's maybe win a fair number of games.