Spring Depth Chart

Apr 27, 2020

There was no spring, and there might not be a fall, but I can still pretend like everything's fine and post a depth chart update, right?

I see it like this. As a fan, I'm a "hold out hope until all hope is lost" kind of guy. The whole world was putting together coaching shortlists after the Eastern Michigan loss in September and there I was, refusing to shortlist, still mumbling about October 12, 2019. The whole world is worried about having only one recruit in the 2021 class so far and I'll cling to "Lovie classes are always late" until December. So why not treat this upcoming season the same way? More and more signs will appear saying there's not going to be a season and I'll be on player #54 of The 90 Illini, counting down to the first game.

I'd also like to note that it suuucks that there was no spring ball this year. We FINALLY had the ability to have a full spring with a full roster (none of this "only 39 players participated today" stuff) and then there's no spring ball. 25 seniors and 20 juniors, more than 70 scholarship players on campus with only a dozen set to join in the summer - this would have finally been a spring ball's spring ball. (Also, I moved here in time to cover it and then it didn't happen and I hate everything.)

So let's act like we had a spring (and we're going to have a fall) and talk about the depth chart as it stands today. In three-deep form because Patrick William Fitzgerald Jr. would probably hate it.

QB | Peters (SR) | Williams (rs-FR) | Robinson (SO)
RB | Epstein (rs-JR) | Bonner (SR) | C. Brown (rs-SO) | Norwood (SO)
TE | Ford (rs-SO) | Barker (JR) | Moore (rs-FR)
LT | Lowe (SR) | Cerny (SR) | Sparks (FR)
LG | K. Green (JR) | Slaughter (rs-SO) | Griffin (FR)
C | Kramer (SR) | Plohr (rs-FR) | Engel (SO-walkon)
RG | Jeresaty (SR) | V. Brown (rs-SO) | Tyler (FR)
RT | Palczewski (SR) | Pearl (rs-SO) | Kirts (rs-FR)
WR1 | Navarro (JR) | Cumby (rs-FR) | Holmes (JR-walkon)
WR2 | Smalling (SR) | Sidney (SR) | Dan (SR)
WR3 | Imatorbhebhe (SR) | Washington (SO) | Campbell (SO)
WDE | Gay (SR) | Bell (SR) | Coleman (rs-FR)
DT | Woods (JR) | Pate (JR) | Newton (FR)
DT | Avery (JR) | Shipton (JR) | Okpala (rs-FR)
SDE | Carney (SR) | Randolph (rs-FR) | Davis (FR)
WLB | Tolson (JR) | Cooper (rs-FR) | Coghlan (JR-walkon)
MLB | Hansen (SR) | T. Barnes (SO) | McEachern (SO-walkon)
SLB | Eifler (SR) | DeGroot (SR) | Gardner (JR)
CB | Hobbs (SR) | Witherspoon (SO) | Thompson (rs-FR)
SS | S. Brown (JR) | Martin (JR) | Knight (JR)
FS | D. Smith (JR) | Ware (JR) | Joseph (JR)
CB | Adams (SR) | Beason (rs-FR) | N. Walker (SR)
Kicker | McCourt (SR) | Griffin (rs-SO)
Punter | Hayes (SR) | McCourt (SR)
Longsnapper | Tabel (SR) | Hall (rs-FR)
Holder | Hayes (SR)
Punt Return | Holmes (JR) | Sidney (SR) | Cumby (rs-FR)
KO Return | Norwood/Love | Sandy/Sims

Some notes:

+ First off, more than any three-deep I've ever put together, this one is so very clearly "the 2020 team and then the team after that". Nearly every position felt like that. I'll give you some examples.

  • The 2020 team has an offensive line of Lowe, Green, Kramer, Jeresaty, and Palcho with Cerny as the 6th Man. The following year, only Green returns out of those six and it's a whole new line with the three current sophomores becoming juniors and moving into the lineup (guys like Pearl, Brown, and Slaughter).
  • The 2020 team will be Peters throwing to Bhebhe, Smalling, and Sydney. The team after that is a completely new passing offense with a wide open QB battle.
  • The guys rushing the passer will be Carney, Gay, and the Wisconsin transfer (Bell) at defensive end and then maybe some Eifler or Hansen blitzing from their linebacker spots. The following season it's an entirely new wave, mostly dominated by the 2019 recruiting class (Randolph, Coleman, and maybe Okpala along with Shammond Cooper and Tarique Barnes at linebacker.
  • Corners on this team: Hobbs and Adams. Corners on the next several teams after that: Witherspoon and Beason.

My point here isn't just "wow - we have a bunch of seniors". We already knew that. I'm saying that there's this team being formed in the second and third string that will go from "who?" to "started 12 games" in an instant. We gradually learned the names Jake Hansen and Kendrick Green and Milo Eifler over the past few seasons. And in 2021 it's going to be this whole new team all at once. A defense led by Randolph, Coleman, and Cooper in the front seven and Beason and Witherspoon in the secondary plus an offense with a brand new line, brand new quarterback, brand new receivers, etc etc etc. One team now, and then a completely different team after that.

So I guess I am saying "wow - we have a bunch of seniors".

+ A couple players I don't have on here but should: freshman WR James Frenchie and walkon Bryce Barnes. Without seeing Frenchie in person, it's hard to put him in front of any of those nine guys (I had to leave off other WR's like Edwin Carter and Carlos Sandy). But with his speed, we could see him out there on kick returns in the first game (if he doesn't redshirt).

For Barnes, he's now moved from tight end to defensive tackle (the roster just says DL, but his Twitter bio says "DT at the University of Illinois", so it sounds like it's defensive tackle). He's one of only five freshmen to burn their redshirts last year (Barnes, Dalevon Campbell, Casey Washington, Tarique Barnes, and Devon Witherspoon), and when a walkon plays while a dozen scholarship freshmen redshirt, pay attention to that walkon. If it's a move from TE to DT then he might redshirt this coming season while bulking up, but keep him in mind when looking at defensive tackle rotations in the future. A second-year position move for a walkon usually means "hey, this kid can help us".

+ I feel like we've completely forgotten that Isaiah Williams was at wide receiver in the bowl game and caught three passes. Or perhaps I should say that I've forgotten since I'm putting him as the backup quarterback here. It will be interesting to see how they use him now that they're not protecting his redshirt.

+ Speaking of protected redshirts, I think the staff used the new (in 2018) rule quite well last season. You can play up to four games and still redshirt, and here's what we saw:

  • Isaiah Williams played in four games (Nebraska, Michigan, Northwestern, Cal) and kept his redshirt.
  • Keith Randolph played in four games, including a ton of snaps against Rutgers and Michigan State when Betiku was injured, and was then shut down to preserve the redshirt.
  • Kyron Cumby, four games (the last one Michigan) and then shut down to preserve the redshirt.
  • Shammond Cooper - played in three games, redshirted.
  • Seth Coleman - played in three games, redshirted.
  • Nick Fedanzo - played in three games (on special teams), redshirted.

The only "burned" redshirt was Dalevon Campbell. He played in the first five games before an injury ended his season, so he was one game over the redshirt line. But he's probably someone who would have played in all 12 games like Witherspoon had he not been injured.

If this was 2017, I think Williams, Randolph, Cumby, Cooper, and Coleman would have started every game (just like Hobbs, Palcho, Roundtree, Bennett Williams, and other freshmen did that season). But because they came along when they did, they all redshirted, will be used sparingly in 2020, and then.... the weight of the entire program is put on their shoulders in 2021.

+ Which reminds me - the place where I know I'm wrong here: I have exactly one sophomore in the starting lineup (Luke Ford, who might not even start over Daniel Barker, at least not at first) and zero freshmen. I'm basically saying that the those three classes (2018, 2019, and 2020) won't produce any starters this season and that's just not going to be the case. There are always players that push their way past the upperclassmen.

And looking at the second string, I only have 6 sophomores and 6 redshirt freshmen. There's probably going to be more than that. I'm putting two juniors as the backup defensive tackles (Deon Pate plus juco transfer Anthony Shipton), but some of the true freshmen like Johnny Newton and Tre'von Riggins might have something to say about that. Apply that across the roster and there will be changes once fall camp starts.

Maybe in August 2021 {Price Is Right horn}.


kewanee on April 27 @ 05:16 PM CDT

It will be an absolute sin if the coming season is canceled. Illinois has waited for this season since Lovie got here. To lose out on all the experience of the senior class and a relatively easy schedule would be devastating.

illiniu on April 27 @ 06:09 PM CDT

Hi, I'm new to Illiniboard. Great articles, a lot of good stuff to digest. Thanks. Go Illini!

illiniu on April 27 @ 06:57 PM CDT

Robert, can you clue me in? What is the Deuce? Just an open forum for comments on any subject, sports or not?

As far as I can tell, you and others write the sports articles, and we respond. But if I have a question or comment about any Illini sport - football, basketball, baseball, golf - not necessarily related to your articles, what do I do?


Robert on April 28 @ 10:33 AM CDT

This will be a longer answer than you expected, but here's the history.

IlliniBoard was started by John Brumbaugh (Brumby) in 2000. It quickly grew to the point that basketball and football discussions were getting lost in political/entertainment/current events discussions, so he asked that all off-topic discussions go to a separate message board he created called "The Deuce".

IlliniBoard (and The Deuce) went through several iterations after that. Brumby joined the Scout network and, at that time, Orange & Blue News was the Rivals site and IlliniBoard was the Scout site. He then pulled IlliniBoard back out and made it independent again (and someone else took over the Illini Scout site). Then he joined IlliniHQ and IlliniBoard became the fan forums for the News Gazette site.

At that time (2008 or so), the regular IlliniBoard posters on The Deuce split off (the HQ software wasn't conducive to off-topic discussions, or something) and became an independent message board using Boardhost software. The IlliniHQ/IlliniBoard thing didn't last, and for a time there (early 2010's), IlliniBoard was basically dormant. It was around this same time (2009) that I started a lion eye dot com.

Brumby and I knew each other online (I had been on IlliniBoard and The Deuce for nearly 12 years at this point), so in 2013 we discussed moving my blog over to his site and re-activating IlliniBoard. That began in August of 2013. The Deuce stayed where it was (hosted on Boardhost) and IlliniBoard was kind of re-imagined as a blog.

In January 2017 I put The Deuce back on the front page of IlliniBoard (still hosted on Boardhost, but a new site). I no longer participate, but it's there to host any Illini (or non-Illini) discussion.

To finally answer your question, yes, there is a way to "interact" besides The Deuce - you can do that on the forum. If you want, you could go there right now and ask your question. But no one really uses it - most of the discussion happens in the comments under posts.

illiniu on April 28 @ 10:45 AM CDT

Thanks so much. You really do a thorough job.

Eagle on April 27 @ 10:43 PM CDT

I'm so impressed with that starting offensive lineup. They're going to be able to score and I can't wait to see them play. Test them and lock 'em all down starting Aug 1.

DB50 on April 28 @ 11:44 AM CDT

Robert, as a long-time subscriber, I have a question regarding recruiting. Iowa just received a verbal from David Davidkof, a 4* OL from Illinois ranked 134th nationally and 2nd in the state. Iowa's class is ranked 7th nationally and 3rd in the BIG with 11 commitments. This is Lovie's 5th class he is working on and he has one recruit. My twofold question is will he ever change his approach to becoming more aggressive early & if not, how can we ever expect to compete with Iowa, or Wisconsin?

uofi08 on April 28 @ 01:35 PM CDT

It’s to the point where he has to change or he’ll never actually build anything. The last 3 recruiting classes are evidence of this.

In the “big picture” the short answer is never while being led by Lovie if his first 4 years of coaching and recruiting are any indication. In the “any given Sunday/Saturday” context, sure we probably have somewhere between a 10-30% chance of winning each individual matchup with them.

ppbob on April 28 @ 07:14 PM CDT

New coach McClain just hasn't shown himself to be up to the task in Illinois prep recruiting, and his "home turf" of North Carolina really hasn't borne much recruiting dividends.

There was simply nothing in his resume' to expect he could be an effective recruiter of OL here or in P5. He hasn't been able to build a network and just doesn't have the recruiting skills to recruit top prospects at that position. He probably has a max ceiling of non P5 or FCS, where I believe he did a decent job. Just "peter principle" I guess.

There has to be more discriminating hiring criteria than being a friend of the OC if you want to move a program forward

I'm also sad to say that I'm more than a little disappointed in what coach Bellamy was supposed to bring to Illinois recruiting and hasn't. Seems we're consistently skunked for quality in state recruits, and it was his job to build that network.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment was that Lovie wasn't able to bring in recently let go Bear and Illini OL coach Harry Hiestand, or someone of that calibre. He would really be a difference maker in developing these players and on the recruiting trail.

jdl on April 28 @ 06:26 PM CDT

I don't think Kendrick Green plans to be around for his SR season.

ppbob on April 28 @ 07:18 PM CDT

probably right, JDL. So we're going into 2021 with an empty cupboard. No non-starter on campus has shown anything on the field that indicates they can start at this level......

HailToTheOrange on April 28 @ 09:55 PM CDT

Okay I have to ask this for my sanity.

I think it's very safe to assume that the 2020 season doesn't happen. Let's assume worst case scenario that the 2020 season is not pushed to the spring but doesn't happen until August of 2021.

If that's the case, I have to think that even if seniors graduate they would be given the opportunity to play next year? and if so, how many do we think will stick around? I'm guessing that without having the opportunity to shine on the field most wouldn't declare for the draft (or perhaps have the talent to declare in the first place per your last post Robert), so maybe it doesn't really hurt us on balance?

HailToTheOrange on April 28 @ 09:56 PM CDT

*will, not we'll

theshoe7222 on May 01 @ 09:49 AM CDT

That's a crazy amount of JR safeties, with no underclassmen behind them on the roster. Need to bring in a bunch of young DB's.

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