2019 Training Camp III - Seniors?
I lied. I'm not going to write the Chase Brown LLUOI this morning. Something else is on my mind. I'll fit in the Chase Brown LLUOI... I'm not sure when. I'm going to football practice, then I'm going to basketball practice, then I'm writing about both for six hours, so maybe tomorrow morning? But I'm going to another football practice tomorrow morning. And I still haven't written the Sidney and Sydney post I promised on Thursday morning. So maybe... October 26th?
Here's the thing that struck me as I was watching the players come off the field after practice yesterday: where are all the seniors? I keep a document of all the scholarship players, so I knew going in that there would only be 12 seniors on the field (there were seven last year), but still, I didn't really realize that this team would feel so senior-less. First a disclaimer and then I'll explain.
I already know how this post will appear. The danger of writing about the 2019 Illini is that everything will point towards the 2020 Illini. It's just how this roster is set up. We already had 25 scholarship juniors and then we went out and added four two-year grad transfers (Wole Betiku, Trevon Sidney, Josh Imatorbhebhe, and Brandon Peters), to bring the total to 29. Add in a few likely 5th-year transfers next season and yeah, there's going to be 30+ seniors.
But this is a SHOW SOMETHING year. You can't be all "but next season.." when this is the season that has to go somewhere. 9-27 is 9-27, 63-0 just happened in the second-to-last game, so it's put up or shut up in year four. And that put up or shut up season is happening... with 11 seniors and 29 juniors.
Which means that if it does work - if Illinois goes bowling this fall - then watch out for next year's OMG CAN THEY WIN 10 GAMES over-exuberance. Nearly everyone will return from a bowl season. If it doesn't work it might get even weirder - a new coach inheriting 29 scholarship seniors and perhaps the most experienced roster in the nation.
Why would it be the most experienced roster in the nation? Simply because we played more freshmen more snaps in 2017 than any team I've ever heard of. I'm just talking math here. Number of actual college football plays for each member of the team. Besides his first season (he didn't have a recruiting class yet), Lovie more or less ignored the inherited players (and most of them left) and played his own guys. That's why the 2017 team only had eight scholarship seniors (Dunlap, Crawford, Turner, Foster, Hayes, Echard, Fagan, DiLauro), the 2018 team only had seven scholarship seniors (Bush, Philips, Mays, Dudek, Roberts, McLaughlin, Allegretti), and the 2019 team only has 11 scholarship seniors (more on that below). This will be followed by next season and somewhere between 29 and 32 scholarship seniors.
But again, I'm not saying what you think I'm saying. With this much experience, these juniors pretty much are seniors at this point. Youth is no longer an excuse. They've all had so many plays on the football field (like, SO many). Just look at the senior numbers above. A season with eight, then a season with seven, then as season with eleven. How/why? Easy - everyone left and the new coach played his own guys.
What I am saying: man, there aren't many contributing seniors on this team. Let's go through the scholarship seniors and list their current role, starting with the poster boy.
Reggie Corbin: The Guy for this season. If he has a big season, we have a big season.
Stanley Green: Was backing up Sydney Brown by the end of last season - will be one of three safeties in a heavy rotation.
Dele Harding: Hasn't started many games but played a lot last season. Should be the starting middle linebacker.
Justice Williams: Linebacker turned wide receiver has one career catch.
Caleb Reams: Tight end turned wide receiver has 11 career receptions.
Trenard Davis: Safety turned wide receiver (there's a theme here) has 40 career receptions and should be a starter.
Dre Brown: Injuries stole 2.5 seasons, played at the end of that third year and all of last year. 49 career carries. Probably the third tailback this year.
Jamal Milan: Has started 19 games at defensive tackle. Should be a senior anchor for the defensive line.
Richie Petitbon: 5th-year transfer from Alabama. Has never started a game but is slated to be the starting right guard.
Kenyon Jackson: Has started eight games at defensive tackle but none of those starts were last year. Mostly because the starts went to Milan and...
Tymir Oliver: Has started 22 games at defensive tackle. Will likely start every game and push that number to 34 (maybe 35?) by the end of the year.
I don't know why I was expecting this camp to feel senior-y. Maybe I thought that 11 seniors would feel a lot different than last year's seven seniors. But of those seven seniors last year, all of them were "starters" (Mays started most games after Dudek went down in the Kent State game). For this group, maybe there's only six starters (Corbin, Harding, Davis, Milan, Petitbon, Oliver)? And there's no guarantee that Davis (or Petitbon, for that matter) hold on to their starting spots.
A good way to look at this is probably to see what's left from the former coaches. Like we've discussed a thousand times, with redshirts, football teams are made up of five recruiting classes, and Lovie still only has three. This team would be redshirt seniors from Beckman's 2015 class, true seniors and redshirt juniors from Bill Cubit's 2016 class, and then Lovie recruits and transfers. Here's the players left on each list:
Beckman redshirt seniors: Reggie Corbin, Dre Brown, Jamal Milan, Trenard Davis, Justice Williams, Caleb Reams
Cubit seniors (Lovie played them as true freshmen): Dele Harding, Kenyon Jackson, Stanley Green, Tymir Oliver
Cubit redshirt juniors (Lovie redshirted them): Kurt Gavin, Jake Cerny, James McCourt, Doug Kramer, Griffin Palmer, Ayo Shogbonyo, Jake Hansen (injury redshirt)
That's really not much left. This presents a really good picture of Lovie's (excessive) house-cleaning. Lovie has only three recruiting classes - the 2017 class who are juniors and redshirt sophomores, the 2018 class who are sophomores and redshirt freshmen, and the 2019 true freshmen - so he turns to the remaining players from the previous coaches and there are 17 left.
I guess I don't really have a point to this whole thing. This was more or less just my wake-up thought. "Wait, where were all the seniors yesterday? Oh, I guess there really aren't that many who will start or even contribute much. Well that sucks, because seniors = wins. And we need to win now."
And I guess as I've typed it out here the class imbalance becomes even more noticeable. 11 seniors in 2019, then 29 in 2020, then 14 in 2021. Remember Colorado's build under Mike MacIntyre a few years ago? Looking at his six years at Colorado, see if you can spot the year where he had 24 seniors:
Experience can win you games, but if there's nothing behind it, one great year does nothing for a program.
Which is why the next two years really need to be something like 7-5 and then 9-3. Two great years back to back can really be something to build on. I mean, just ask Ron Zook or Ron Turner. Rose Bowl followed by 5-7. Sugar Bowl followed by 5-7. Our fanbase motto really should be "string two seasons back to back and then we'll start to believe".
And those seasons need to be 2019 and 2020. As mentioned above, the lack of seniors here is made up for by multiple juniors with 20+ starts already. This is an experienced team.
It's just weird that we STILL don't have many seniors.
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