An Attempt At A Depth Chart
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Let's start with this: I really shouldn't be doing a depth chart yet. We still don't know if some seniors are returning or if they're leaving. And there will be several transfers coming in (and even a few more high school recruits). But the students begin returning to campus today (by that I mean the first set of students begin the process of obtaining two negative Covid tests to gain access to campus again), and the five early enrollees will be on campus in the next week, so it's time to look at where the roster stands.
This depth chart will look a little funny, though. Mostly because we don't exactly know what the offense or defense will look like. The transfer of Max Rosenthal means we're going to have fullbacks now, so I'm going to have to add fullbacks and then go find some walkon linebackers who might switch to fullback and back up Rosenthal (still so weird for me to type).
On defense, we don't exactly know if it's going to be a 3-4 or a 4-3. So I think I'm just going to group the defensive line like this:
DT - Interior defensive tackles. Think nose tackle.
LE - Left End. This is where I'll group the "more of a DT than a DE" guys.
RE - Right End. This will be the "typical strongside DE" players.
Edge - Think weakside defensive ends and pass-rushing outside linebackers.
Then I'll group the linebackers without using strong or weak. I'm just going to go with RLB, MLB, LLB (right, middle, left).
We also don't know how the corners or safeties will run. Especially the safeties. Similar roles or a true "free" and "strong" scenario? And will the corners run field/boundary or mostly just right/left? We don't know any of that yet, so I'm just going CB, CB, S, S.
Then there's the question of which players return. There are still four players listed on the official roster as seniors who have not announced their intentions. One of them is Marc Mondesir, who, technically, might only be a junior and could play two more seasons. So we don't even know if he'll "announce" a return or just return. There's also New Mexico transfer Desmond Dan, a wide receiver who did not play this season. Will he return? Is he injured? Done with football? We don't know.
To me, in trying to fill out this three-deep, I'm waiting to hear from two players: Tony Adams and Roderick Perry. I'm going to include both in this depth chart, assuming both return until we hear otherwise. I believe both would start if they returned.
And again, I'm guessing that in the next four months we'll add around a dozen new players. If Illinois plays HS football this spring, maybe some offensive lineman like Palcho emerges. Junior college football will also happen this spring, so maybe my May there's a juco or two who could help next season. And then there's the transfer market which will be white hot all the way through the summer.
One last thing: everyone keeps the same year-in-school from this past season. If you were a redshirt-sophomore then, you're still a redshirt sophomore. You're going to see Chase Brown listed as a sophomore, and you're going to say "wait, Chase Brown has three more years?", and yes, Chase Brown has three more years. If you think you've had "it seems like that guy has been around college football forever" feelings now, wait until Keith Randolph is still starting on the defensive line in 2023.
That enough disclaimers for you? I pride myself on getting depth charts right, and this one... will not be right. But I think you know that by now. On to the three-deep. New players (transfers or incoming freshmen) in italics.
QB | Peters (SR) ~OR~ Williams (rs-FR) | Robinson (rs-SO) | Taylor (rs-SO) | Spann (FR)
RB | C. Brown (rs-SO) ~AND~ Epstein (rs-JR) | Hayden (rs-JR) | Love (FR) | Norwood (rs-SO)
FB | Rosenthal (rs-JR) | McEachern (JR-walkon) | McCray (FR)
TE | Barker (rs-JR) | Ford (rs-SO) | Moore (FR) | Reiman (FR-walkon)
LT | Lowe (SR) | Jones (rs-FR) | Sparks (FR)
LG | Jeresaty (SR) | Slaughter (rs-SO) | Kirts (FR)
C | Kramer (SR) | Pihlstrom (rs-JR) | Kreutz (FR)
RG | V. Brown (rs-SO) | Plohr (rs-FR) | Tyler (FR)
RT | Palczewski (SR) | Pearl (rs-SO) | Okpala (rs-FR)
WR1 | Navarro (JR) | Cumby (rs-FR) | Lindenman (FR-walkon)
WR2 | Frenchie (FR) | Bryant (FR) | Sandy (SO)
WR3 | Hightower (JR) | Campbell (SO) | Thompson (rs-JR)
RE | Carney (SR) | Randolph (rs-FR) | Holmes (rs-SO)
DT | Perry (SR) | Avery (JR) | Pate (rs-JR)
LE | Newton (FR) | Woods (SR) | B. Barnes (SO)
EDGE | Coleman (rs-FR) | Gay (SR) | Mondesir (SR)
RLB | Cooper (rs-FR) | Hart (rs-SO) | Villanueva (FR)
MLB | T. Barnes (SO) | Meed (SO-walkon) | Rosiek (FR)
LLB | Tolson (JR) | Coghlan (JR-walkon) | Darkangelo (SO-walkon)
CB | Witherspoon (SO) | K. Smith (SR) | Edwards (FR)
CB | Adams (SR) | Beason (rs-FR) | Nicholson (FR)
S | S. Brown (JR) | D. Smith (JR) | Snyder (FR)
S | Martin (JR) | Joseph (JR) | J. Washington (FR)
Kicker | McCourt (SR) | Griffin (rs-SO)
Punter | Hayes (SR) | Robertson (FR)
Longsnapper | Tabel (SR) | Hall (rs-FR)
Punt Return | Frenchie (FR) | Cumby (rs-FR)
KO Return | Thompson (rs-JR) | Love (FR)
Some thoughts, but not many thoughts, because we don't really know anything yet.
- Linebacker is obviously the biggest need. Lovie had been recruiting for two linebacker spots and filling the third with safety-types like Delano Ware (who left the team). If this new defense requires three and a half linebackers (the "half" being the edge guy), well, we're in trouble. That's why you saw Calvin Hart as the first transfer of the Bielema era and also why I think you'll see some position moves to linebacker. Derrick Smith? Nick Fedanzo? I think there will be at least two.
- Defensive back is also thin. Say Tony Adams does not return and Marquez Beason joins his cousin at Oregon State. Well then defensive back just got incredibly super thin and true freshmen like Snook Edwards, DD Snyder, and Joriell Washington are going to have to play. So in that scenario, I think you'd see several DB transfers.
- I just want to note this here: walkon tight end Tip Reiman is one to watch.
- I knew that the offensive line had a lot of bodies, but I guess I didn't fully realize it until putting this together. That's a three-deep and I didn't have any room for second-year players like Phifer Griffin or first-year players like Brody Wisecarver. There will be a big drop after the four seniors graduate, so it needs to be deep, but I'd just like to note that it's extra deep right now.
- I don't feel awful about the starters in bold? No idea how they'll fit into the schemes, and not sure if this will even be the starting lineup, but I found myself saying "not bad" a lot. There's some "rs-FR" in there, but those guys are third-year players. Lots of question marks around the linebacker injuries but a front-seven of Randolph-Perry-Newton-Coleman-Cooper-Barnes-Tolson is a Big Ten West front seven. Just might not be experienced (or healthy) enough.
- Also, I think Randolph, Coleman, and Newton are ready to make a jump next season, which is why I have Gay and Woods coming off the bench.
One last disclaimer: there will be at least a dozen changes to this between now and late August. This is way, WAY early. But for now, that's how I see things.
Now let's go find some transfers.
1/17/21 edit: Owen Carney has pulled his name out of the transfer portal and will return to Illinois. I added him to the depth chart. Also, Tony Adams announced his return (I already had him on the depth chart), so we're down to one name on the depth chart who has yet to announce his intentions: Rod Perry.
1/18/21 edit: Rod Perry has announced he's returning. But WR Casey Washington put his name in the transfer portal. Both changes have been made on this depth chart.