2020 Three-Deep

Sep 30, 2019

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It's a bye week tradition around here: a look at next year's depth chart. This year we have two bye weeks (people forget that), so I thought about waiting until mid-November to put this post out there. But tradition is tradition: the Big Ten always gives us an early bye week (you know, to give the October breaks to the top programs), so it's time to three-deep.

And, much like last year, the depth chart will look really familiar. The 2017 team had seven seniors, and then last year there were eight seniors, and this year there's 11 seniors. (And then next year, 30.) As a result, the 2020 depth chart looks a lot like the 2019 depth chart which looked a lot like the 2018 depth chart which was similar to the 2017 depth chart......

QB | Peters (SR) | Williams (rs-FR) | Robinson (SO)
RB | Epstein (rs-JR) | Bonner (SR) | C. Brown (rs-SO)
TE | Ford (rs-SO) | Barker (JR) | Palmer (SR)
LT | Lowe (SR) | Cerny (rs-SR) | Slaughter (rs-SO)
LG | K. Green (JR) | Gavin (SR) | Myers (rs-SO)
C | Kramer (SR) | Stover (JR-walkon) | Engel (SO-walkon)
RG | V. Brown (rs-SO) | Plohr (rs-FR) | Tyler (FR)
RT | Palczewski (SR) | Pearl (rs-SO) | Kirts (rs-FR)
WR-drag | Sidney (SR) | Stampley (SR) | Cumby (rs-FR)
WR-deep | Smalling (SR) | Washington (rs-FR) | Holmes (JR-walkon)
WR-dig | Imatorbhebhe (SR) | Navarro (JR-walkon) | Thompson (FR)
WDE | Shogbonyo (SR) | Gay (SR) | Mondesir (SR)
DT | Woods (JR) | Avery (JR) | Okpala (rs-FR)
DT | Oladipo (JR) | Pate (JR) | McCoy (FR)
SDE | Betiku (SR) | Carney (SR) | Randolph (rs-FR)
WLB | Hansen (SR) | Cooper (SO) | Coghlan (JR-walkon)
MLB | Barnes (SO) | Tolson (JR) | McEachern (SO-walkon)
SLB | Eifler (SR) | D. Smith (JR) | Meed (rs-FR-walkon)
CB | Hobbs (SR) | Witherspoon (SO) | Thompson (rs-FR)
SS | S. Brown (JR) | Ware (JR) | Marchese (SR-walkon)
FS | Adams (SR) | Joseph (JR) | DeGroot (SR)
CB | Martin (JR) | Beason (rs-FR) | Walker (SR)
Kicker | McCourt (SR) | Griffin (rs-SO)
Punter | Hayes (SR) | McCourt (SR)
Longsnapper | Tabel (SR) | Hall (rs-FR) | Rossback (rs-FR)
Holder | Hayes (SR) | C. Miller (SR) | Judd (rs-FR-walkon)
Punt Return | Sidney (SR) | Cumby (rs-FR) | Holmes (JR-walkon)
KO Return | Norwood/Love | Stampley/Sandy

First (obvious) thought. Seniors, and seniors, and more seniors. Too many seniors, really. There's no real balance in this depth chart - it's just a bunch of seniors.

Counting the kicker and the punter, that's 15 of the 24 starting spots held down by seniors. And season-ending injuries in September are the only reason Jamal Woods (last year) and Mike Epstein (this year) will be juniors next year and not seniors. Had that not happened, we'd be looking at going into 2021 with seven returning starters.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a cliff. But it seems fairly silly to worry about a cliff when the current build is three feet tall. So let's save that discussion for another time and just look at the depth chart.

  • There are exactly five senior starters to replace from the current team: Reggie Corbin at running back, Richie Petitbon at right guard, Jamal Milan and Tymir Oliver at defensive tackle, and Dele Harding at middle linebacker. And given that Jamal Woods has been starting at defensive tackle when healthy, it's kinda technically only four starters. Basically, next year's team looks a lot like this year's team.
  • There are two transfer additions as of now (Luke Ford and Derrick Smith), but if Lovie is still here, I'd anticipate several more. I wasn't exactly sure who to plug in at middle linebacker for next year (as of now I'm going with Tarique Barnes), so that's a spot where we might see a fifth-year transfer.
  • There's really not many position battles? Petitbon graduates, so there will be a battle for the one open OL spot (my guess for now is Verdis Brown). Oliver, Milan, and Jackson graduate at defensive tackle, but we know the replacements there (Woods, Avery, Pate, and Oladipo as long as this latest suspension doesn't eventually become a dismissal). And I think tailback will be Epstein (if fully healthy) plus Bonner and Chase Brown (and then Norwood, Sims, and Reggie Love). So that means that right guard and middle linebacker are probably the only true camp battles.
  • I guess maybe tight end will be a battle. Luke Ford will no longer be sitting out the season, so he joins the rotation with Daniel Barker. Maybe that's a position battle? But both of them will certainly play a lot.
  • You know, perhaps QB is the biggest battle here. Can Peters hold down the job? They're clearly trying to redshirt Isaiah Williams this season by only playing him in four games, so with him no longer on that restriction, is there a clear QB battle? CJ Dixon arrives next summer - can he get in the competition? Matt Robinson? Coran Taylor? I think I'll settle on three camp battles: QB, RG, and MLB.
  • Actually, maybe there's a battle at cornerback? My guy Quan Martin has struggled this season, and true freshman Devin Witherspoon is hot on his heels. Perhaps Witherspoon overtakes him? Or maybe Marquez Beason overtakes him? Maybe both starting corners need to be worried about their jobs?

That's probably the takeaway here. There should be position battles across the field, and right now, I don't see many of them. I see a clear first string and then a big drop to the second string. I get why the rotations have tightened this year - they're trying to win, not trying to build - but it's creating a cliff once that first string graduates.

Sorry - I said this post wouldn't be about the cliff, and here I am looking at the cliff again. But it's hard to think about anything else. In 2021 we will have to replace... the quarterback, all three starting receivers, three offensive linemen, all four defensive ends in the rotation, two starting linebackers, a cornerback, a safety, the kicker, the punter, and the longsnapper. No big deal, right?

But this is the 2020 post. And 2020, we will be... the most experienced college football team in the nation.

(And so far, that group of players is 4-24 in the Big Ten.)


Bear8287 on September 29, 2019 @ 10:40 PM

But it seems fairly silly to worry about a cliff when the current build is three feet tall.

There ya go. That's the way to find that silver lining. See, there might not be that much of a drop off after all. (Hey, Nebraska looked pretty awesome last Saturday... good thing the Illini don't have to play tOSU this season.)

thumpasaurus on September 30, 2019 @ 10:26 AM

It's much like the 2016 situation, except the seniors are much more talented athletes.

When was the last head coach to walk into Illinois with the opportunity to win games in year 1?

Unless the final 8 games show a level of competence that I've yet to see out of the Lovie Smith Illini, it would be a monumental mistake not to take advantage of our situation by bringing in a new head coach for 2020. It would be dagger to the heart all over again.

Groundhogday on September 30, 2019 @ 01:23 PM

This is Illinois. We always fire our failing coaches a year or two after realizing they can't get it done. We like complete rebuilds!

Bear8287 on September 30, 2019 @ 06:55 PM

Is he wearing an orange sweatshirt?

Joe Edge on October 1, 2019 @ 12:54 PM

That's an understatement.... We've being doing this SAME thing for almost 60 years (with the possible exception of M.White and J.Mackovic)... Does anyone actually think our old dog can learn new tricks ? ? ?

Illiniiniowa on September 30, 2019 @ 08:14 PM

We're Illinois Football. We don't matter!

Joe Edge on October 1, 2019 @ 12:54 PM

Another understatement....

Norcal Illini on September 30, 2019 @ 11:58 PM

I don't understand the obsession with a future 3-deep when we're only a third of the way into this season and we might end up with a whole new coaching staff and a lot of transfers. Even if we have the same coaches, we might end up with four grad transfers who are starting. The point is that this 3-deep will NOT be the 3-deep in September 2020.

Hhsillini on October 1, 2019 @ 02:53 PM

Ummm...how can you have Lere as a starting DT when he’s, umm, I don’t know, suspended? At this point it’s pretty obvious that he’s a goof ball who’s never going to play a down again for the Orange and Blue unfortunately.

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