Checking In On The Three-Deep

Sep 22, 2020

Quick note: if you're having any subscription issues, please email me ( or send me a DM on Twitter. Many of you say "sorry to bother you" when you contact me but you're not bothering me. I work for you now. So if you need anything, even if it's just answering a few questions you have, hit me up.

Also, this is version #2 of this post. We were having some website issues last night. I tried to edit what I posted last night but it wasn't working so I had to start over. Apologies to the two people who had already commented on the last version of this depth chart. Back to the original post....

OK, so I thought I'd revisit my depth chart. There have been a few opt-outs since the last time I did one of these (like Dawson DeGroot), and transfer offensive lineman Blake Jeresaty had shoulder surgery and will miss this season, so we need to tweak some things. We also found out that all three sit-out transfers received waivers and no longer have to sit out (WR Brian Hightower, WR Khmari Thompson, OL Brevyn Jones).

I did a few depth chart adjustments a month ago, but that's when we were looking at a possible spring season. There's now an actual fall season, and that season doesn't count towards anyone's eligibility, so we need to focus in on the starters and backups with the first game only 33 days away.

First the depth chart, then the discussion.

QB | Peters (SR) | Williams (rs-FR) | Robinson (SO)
RB | Epstein (rs-JR) | Norwood (rs-SO) | C. Brown (rs-SO)
TE1 | Ford (rs-SO) | D. Imatorbhebhe (SR) | Reiman (FR-walkon)
TE2 | Barker (JR) | Moore (rs-FR) | McEachern (JR-walkon)
LT | Lowe (SR) | B. Jones (rs-FR) | Griffin (FR)
LG | K. Green (JR) | Kirts (rs-FR) | Pihlstrom (JR-walkon)
C | Kramer (SR) | Plohr (rs-FR) | Engel (SO-walkon)
RG | Slaughter (rs-SO) ~OR~ V. Brown (rs-SO) | Tyler (FR)
RT | Palczewski (SR) | Pearl (rs-SO) | Sparks (FR)
WR1 | Navarro (JR) | Cumby (rs-FR) | Sandy (rs-SO)
WR2 | Sidney (SR) | Hightower (JR) | Dan (SR)
WR3 | J. Imatorbhebhe (SR) | Washington (SO) | Campbell (SO)
WDE | Gay (SR) | Mondesir (SR) | Coleman (rs-FR)
DT | Woods (JR) | Pate (JR) | Udeogu (SR)
DT | Perry (SR) | Avery (JR) | Shipton (JR)
SDE | Carney (SR) | Randolph (rs-FR) | Riggins (FR)
WLB | Eifler (SR) | Cooper (rs-FR) | Meed (rs-FR walkon)
MLB | Hansen (SR) | T. Barnes (SO) | Coghlin (JR-walkon)
SLB | Tolson (JR) | Ware (JR) | Darkangelo (JR)
CB | Hobbs (SR) | Beason (rs-FR) | Leitzsey (SR-walkon)
SS | S. Brown (JR) | Martin (JR) | Marchese (SR-walkon)
FS | D. Smith (JR) | Joseph (JR) | K. Smith (SR)
CB | Adams (SR) | Witherspoon (SO) | N. Walker (SR)
Kicker | McCourt (SR) | Griffin (rs-SO)
Punter | Hayes (SR) | Robertson (FR)
Longsnapper | Tabel (SR) | Hall (rs-FR)
Holder | Hayes (SR)
Punt Return | Sidney (SR) | Cumby (rs-FR)
KO Return | Norwood/Love | Thompson/Sims


+ Really not sure how the WR rotation will shake out. I went to add Khmari Thompson (since he received a waiver) and I'm not sure who to bump. My thoughts there:

  • The 1-2 punch at WR once things got going last year was Bhebhe and Navarro. So they have to be starters.
  • I put Trevon Sidney as a starter as well (which he was until his injury in the 5th game which ended his season).
  • Casey Washington played a ton as a true freshman, so we need to consider him a top-4 guy. Maybe he's #3 and Sidney isn't a starter.
  • Brian Hightower was a 4-star in high school and has the size to be a Behbhe-like target (I said "-like", not "he'll be Bhebhe 2.0").
  • Kyron Cumby played in four games but then they shut him down to save his eligibility. I supposed he'll play a lot.
  • Carlos Sandy was injured for the year but he did return in the bowl game and caught 4 passes.
  • Dalevon Campbell played in 5 games as a true freshman but then an injury meant he missed the final eight games.
  • Desmond Dan grad-transferred to Illinois so this is his only shot to get into the rotation (well, I guess there's technically next year now).
  • And that means I haven't included Missouri-transfer Khmari Thompson, a back-from-injury Edwin Carter, or freshman James Frenchie. And I think I heard that Taz Nicholson was being tried at WR first (might eventually be a CB).

I'm really not sure what to do with that. How many names did I mention there - 13? What are we supposed to do with 13 receivers?

+ I went the easy route and put an "OR" between Jordyn Slaughter and Verdis Brown. Lovie mentioned them as the two guys who would need to step up with Blake Jeresaty out for the season. I think I liked Slaughter a little bit more than Brown in camp last summer (13 months ago), so for that reason I put Slaughter first.

OK fine I put him first because he's a Metro-Easter.

+ You know what would be great? If Marc Mondesir could Shogbonyo. To "Shogbonyo" is to exist in relative obscurity for three seasons, stuck in limbo between linebacker and weakside defensive end, before a fourth-season breakout where you're eventually the starter at WDE.

I think Isaiah Gay will be the starter there this season (Isaiah Gay just turned 21 on Thursday - if not for Covid he would have started his senior season at age 20), but Mondesir would really help Seth Coleman have one more year before he takes the starting job. (Or maybe two if Gay returns for his bonus season in 2021.)

+ Really hope Roderick Perry is a thing.

+ I'll say it again - Hobbs, Adams, Beason, and Witherspoon is probably our best 4-pack at one position in a long time. If the DL can't get any pressure it won't matter (teams will throw and throw and throw and everyone will blame the cornerbacks), but if it's an average defense everywhere else, corner will be a big strength.

+ Barker, Ford, Bhebhe II. Really interested to see how Rod uses them.

+ I'd really love to see someone come out of nowhere to grab the open right guard spot. It's happened before. Two weeks into camp and all everyone is talking about is Ray Redziniak and how he might be our best offensive lineman. Something like that.

So maybe one of the redshirt freshmen (Josh Plohr, Evan Kirts) or true freshmen (Kevin Tyler, Blaise Sparks, Phifer Griffin) is a Redziniak-like surprise? With Jeresaty out, we could really use some "man this freshman is really pushing Slaughter and Brown for that spot".

Let me dream.

Actually, I mean that literally. I need to go to sleep. Let me dream (of a Big Ten West title).


ajreinert on September 22, 2020 @ 10:35 AM

Chase Brown might be the starter at RB, certainly will be ahead of Norwood.

SactownIllini on September 22, 2020 @ 12:03 PM

Great post! Perhaps you could add an X position on offense. I think Williams is too big of a weapon not to use him. Cumby might fit there too?

drew306 on September 22, 2020 @ 12:08 PM

Long time subscriber/first time commenter. Love the new format, congrats on going full time, and here's hoping for a hell of a 2020-21 football/basketball season!

Don't want to jinx us, but man is it nice to start the season with some real TE/WR depth. You hit on it in your comments - we need a difference maker on the DL, maybe Perry is the guy.

I think you need a RS next to Matt Robinson, btw.

tnovak on September 22, 2020 @ 12:28 PM

Totally agree with you on the 4 CB’s. Awesome group there. I’m interested in your take on the 2-deep at linebacker. Seems like that should be at least above average???

SactownIllini on September 22, 2020 @ 02:12 PM

Illini Inquirer free news said that Tony Adams said he has moved back to safety.

seanf on September 22, 2020 @ 02:15 PM

I think WR 1-3 is more like Imatorbhebhe, Hightower, Sidney. 2 outside guys and a slot, but Navarro will get a good amount of play.

Darkangelo, I thought had to sit out?

The Olaf Rules on September 22, 2020 @ 03:17 PM

OL depth makes me nervous.

Efremwinters84 on September 22, 2020 @ 03:43 PM

So we're not going to finish 9-3 or 8-4 as I had hoped/anticipated late last winter, due to the Covid pandemic of course. BUT, this preseason 3-deep sure looks one heck of a lot better than Lovie's first season as head coach!! And to think that every one of these guys is eligible to come back in 2021.

There is definitely some talent on this roster. Two biggest concerns are (1) OL depth, and (2) DL.

ktal on September 22, 2020 @ 09:29 PM

My dream for this season is for a healthy Mike Epstein and a healthy Edwin Carter to lead us in rushing and receiving yards, respectively. They both deserve to absolutely crush it this year, after all they've been through.

CapitalCityOutlaw50 on September 27, 2020 @ 09:52 PM

Curious your thoughts on this, Robert...

We know that most of what happened with COVID (minus the preseason schedule being dropped) was a positive for the team re: extra eligibility, etc. . .

But what was the worst offseason development for the football team? Jeresaty out? Bonner forgoing a year? Degroot opting out of his 5th year?

IIRC you had Jeresaty as a starter. So I'm assuming its him, but the way we've used multiple running backs and Epstein's injury history make me think it could be Bonner...

Robert on September 28, 2020 @ 08:00 AM

Jeresaty by a country mile. They brought him in because they were worried that Brown or Slaughter weren't ready yet. Now they have to see if Brown and Slaughter are ready.

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