Early Spring Depth Chart
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Depth charting is the perfect exercise while avoiding the NCAA Tournament. When there are games going on I won't even check Twitter for fear of finding out what's happening. It's one score check after I'm certain all the games are over and that's it.
Tonight was a bit different in that I saw the Gonzaga score at halftime. So I retweeted my idiotic "does Gonzaga have the guards to win it all?" tweet from the Gonzaga/West Virginia game back in December and then hopped off Twitter.
- Dinner with my wife.
- The Office marathon on Comedy Central.
- Then we got sucked into a Dateline episode and had to find out whodunit so we stuck around for two hours. It dragged a bit in the middle, so I responded to some emails. (Spoiler: the girlfriend did it.)
- My wife went to bed and I answered a bunch of questions on Slack.
- Now I'm writing a depth chart post. The Michigan-UCLA game is probably finishing soon but I don't want to know.
So, let's act like there's no such thing as the NCAA Tournament and talk about spring football. I've attended four practices now, so let's talk about it. First, let's talk about what Bret Bielema allows the media to see.
We only get 15 minutes of each practice. I'm more thankful for these 15 minutes each day than maybe anything since my son's wedding. I moved to Champaign a year ago this weekend and these are the first practices I've been able to attend. I don't care if it's 3 minutes - I'm so glad there's at least something to watch and write about. The whole point of moving here was to be able to do stuff like, and it took a year until there was at least some light at the end of the Covid tunnel which allowed for (masked, distanced) media to cover part of practice.
Coaches all have different ways of allowing media to attend. Under Lovie, most all spring practices were closed except for A) the spring coaches clinic (not happening this year with the high school season happening in the spring), and B) the spring game. There were a few practices open under Lovie the first few years, and a few "media can attend the first 30 minutes" practices (I drove up for two of those - 5.25 hours round trip from St. Louis for 30 minutes but it was totally worth it). For the most part, though, it was something like one open practice plus the spring scrimmage every year.
This spring there are 15-20 minute windows during individual drills where the media can observe practice (and the TV stations can shoot some b-roll). I'm good with that. We won't learn much, but that's OK. You can see that this player bulked up and that player slimmed down and this QB has certainly worked on his deep ball. That's good stuff.
What we don't learn: the depth chart. There's no "first string defense took on the first string offense and here's what happened" as part of the open portions of practice. There's not even "first string OL went up against the first strong DL". It's just position groups practicing.
I say all of that to point out that this depth chart is mostly me guessing. We don't see the schemes at practice, and we won't even know what the defense looks like until the spring game, so I have to make a whole bunch of assumptions. There's several players who aren't even here yet (like Jafar Armstrong, Eddie Smith, and Max Rosenthal), so I have to do some projecting there as well.
But that's the fun of this, right? What's spring ball without a bunch of wild guesses?
My current three-deep. Newcomers (freshmen and transfers) are in italics. Players who will return from injury this summer are included, so think of this as a depth chart for the Nebraska game. I'm leaving Mike Epstein off because he's not participating in spring ball this year. Bret Bielema has said that there's an "open invitation" for him to return but that it's up to Epstein.
QB | Peters (SR) ~OR~ Williams (rs-FR) | Robinson (rs-SO) | Taylor (rs-SO) | Spann (FR)
RB | C. Brown (rs-SO) | Hayden (rs-JR) | Love (FR)
FB | Rosenthal (rs-JR) | McCray (FR)
TE | Barker (rs-JR) | Ford (rs-SO) | Reiman (FR-walkon)
LT | Lowe (SR) | Jones (rs-FR) | Sparks (FR)
LG | Jeresaty (SR) | Slaughter (rs-SO) | Wisecarver (FR)
C | Kramer (SR) | Plohr (rs-FR) | Kreutz (FR)
RG | V. Brown (rs-SO) | Pihlstrom (rs-JR) | Tyler (FR)
RT | Palczewski (SR) | Pearl (rs-SO) | Okpala (rs-FR)
WR1 | Navarro (JR) | Cumby (rs-FR) | Sandy (SO)
WR2 | Armstrong (JR) | Frenchie (FR) | Bryant (FR)
WR3 | Hightower (JR) | Campbell (SO) | Thompson (rs-JR)
Before we get to the defense let me just note some things. We don't really know the scheme yet. All we know is how they've split up the personnel. Right now, with all of last year's defensive ends moving to "outside linebacker" (and they're working with OLB coach Kevin Kane at practice), that would suggest a 3-4 defense that I sometimes jokingly call a "5-2" defense. Meaning, yes, there's 3 down linemen and four "linebackers". But if both the right outside linebacker and the left outside linebacker are former defensive ends, it almost plays out like five defensive linemen - ROLB, RE, NT, LE, LOLB. Then there's two middle linebackers behind the line, two corners, two safeties. 4-2-5? Nah, 5-2-4. (That's not exactly what it is, but you get the point.)
So for now I'm going to list this defense with 12 positions (just like I do for the offense listing fullbacks, tight ends, and three receivers) until we get more information. It's clunky, but it will maybe tell the story a little better. I'll list the defensive line as ROLB-RE-NT-LE-LOLB and then I'll list the linebackers as RLB-MLB-LLB. At some point, we'll find out exactly how it will work and I'll go back to 11 positions on the depth chart.
ROLB | Carney (SR) | Holmes (rs-SO) | Davis (FR)
RE | Randolph (rs-FR) | Pate (rs-JR) | Riggins (FR)
NT | Perry (SR) | Avery (JR) | McCoy (FR)
LE | Newton (FR) | Woods (SR) | B. Barnes (SO)
LOLB | Gay (SR) | Coleman (rs-FR) |
RLB | Tolson (JR) | Rosiek (FR) | Meed (SO-walkon)
MLB | Hansen (SR) | Barnes (SO) | Coghlan (JR-walkon)
LLB | Cooper (rs-FR) | Hart (rs-SO) | McEachern (JR-walkon)
CB | Witherspoon (SO) | K. Smith (SR) | Edwards (FR)
CB | Adams (SR) | Beason (rs-FR) | Nicholson (FR)
S | S. Brown (JR) | D. Smith (JR) | Hudson (SR)
S | E. Smith (JR) | Martin (JR) | Joseph (JR)
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)
I already feel like I complicated that too much. There's three spots on the DL. Nose is a rotation of Rod Perry and Calvin Avery and then the main four guys in the rotation on either side are probably Johnny Newton, Jamal Woods, Keith Randolph, and Deon Pate. Outside linebackers are a four man rotation of Owen Carney, Isaiah Gay, Seth Coleman, and Ezekiel Holmes. Linebacker has five main guys: Jake Hansen, Khalan Tolson, Tarique Barnes, Shammond Cooper, and Calvin Hart. The four main corners are Tony Adams, Devon Witherspoon, Marquez Beason, and Kendall Smith. And then the safeties I'll put as a six man race for four spots between Syd Brown, Eddie Smith, Derrick Smith, Quan Martin, Kerby Joseph, and Prather Hudson.
Ok, yeah, that was easier. Why didn't I just type it out like that to begin with?
Well, because I wanted something to distract me. Checking the scores now and... Michigan lost? 51-49?
That's a shame.