Final Spring 2021 Depth Chart

May 5, 2021

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This has been a three chart spring. I called the first one "early spring depth chart" and the second one "late spring", so let's finish it off with a "final" depth chart. We've learned so much this spring, and there have been several position changes, so I'm gonna have to update again even though my "late spring" depth chart was just two weeks ago.

What have we learned? A list:

  • The transfer of QB Artur Sitkowski from Rutgers sealed the deal on what type of QB they want to run this system. Tired: DUAL. Wired: PRO.
  • In yesterday's press conference, Bret Bielema referred to the "wide receiver, safety, and tight end" who will be added this summer (Jafar Armstrong, Eddie Smith, and Max Rosenthal are the three transfers who arrive this summer), so I'm going to officially remove "FB" from my depth chart and go with "TE1" and "TE2" like I did with the Garrick McGee offense. What those positions mean: a large stable of blockers and route-runners lining up on the end of the line or at H-back.
  • Bielema noted yesterday that "in our scheme, there's really three to four different wide receiver positions", so I'm going to leave three WR spots on the depth chart. And I think I'm comfortable going back to split end, flanker, and slot. So WR-X will be the split ends, WR-Y will be the flankers, and WR-slot will be the slot receivers. If and when they go four wide, a tight-end will be split out there. And when they went five-wide on the first play of the scrimmage, it was three wide receivers, the tight end, and the tailback. So I'll just go X, Y, slot.
  • Bielema also talked about the "value" brought by linebacker CJ Hart because he can play "on or off the ball". That's enough for me to leave my 12th position on the defensive depth chart which I'm calling "LLB" for, simply, "left linebacker". It's not a nickel position or anything. I'm just noting that I think there will be a few looks where the left outside linebacker will be an "inside" guy instead of one of these edge guys. In that set I imagine three defensive linemen, an edge guy on one side (let's say Isaiah Gay), and then CJ Hart on the other side instead of one of the OLB guys. I'll pair him at LLB with the tallest of the ILB guys - Shammond Cooper - but please note that Cooper is rehabbing a leg injury and hasn't practiced yet, so that's just a guess.

Bielema also read off a list of position changes yesterday (in addition to announcing that Isaiah Williams was moving to wide receiver). Some we knew already (Marquez Beason to WR, Kyron Cumby to RB), some we didn't (Cooper Davis from OLB to TE). He also included walkons that had moved, so here's the full list:

  1. rs-FR Isaiah Williams from QB to WR
  2. rs-FR Marquez Beason from CB to WR
  3. SR Michael Marchese from ILB to TE
  4. FR Cooper Davis from OLB to TE
  5. rs-FR Kyron Cumby from WR to RB
  6. rs-SO Caleb Griffin from just PK to WR/PK
  7. SR Marc Mondesir from ILB to OLB
  8. rs-FR walkon Ben Schultz from S to OLB
  9. rs-SO walkon Preston Engel from OL to TE
  10. rs-SO walkon Dylan Thomas from WR to S

If you'd like a flashing red light showing you where to look to see hints about the offensive scheme, look at tight end. When Bret Bielema took over were four tight ends on the roster for next season: DJ Barker, Luke Ford, Griffin Moore, and walkon Tip Reiman. In January they added transfer Max Rosenthal from Michigan State. They then brought in a walkon transfer from NIU - Mike Cerniglia. At the start of spring practice they moved walkon QB Josh Beetham to tight end. Then they moved offensive lineman Preston Engel there. Next they moved linebacker Michael Marchese over to TE. And now they're moving Cooper Davis from defensive end to tight end.

From 4 listed on the roster to 10. That's what we call a "sign".

OK, let's get to the three-deep. Here's how I see it going into fall camp. Incoming freshmen and transfers are in italics.

QB | Peters (SR) | Sitkowski (rs-SO) | Spann (FR)
RB | C. Brown (rs-SO) | Hayden (rs-JR) | Love (FR)
TE1 | Barker (rs-JR) | Reiman (FR-walkon) | Marchese (SR)
TE2 | Ford (rs-SO) | Rosenthal (rs-JR) | Moore (FR)
LT | Lowe (SR) | Kirts (rs-FR) | Jones (rs-FR)
LG | Jeresaty (SR) | V. Brown (rs-SO) | Wisecarver (FR)
C | Kramer (SR) | Plohr (rs-FR) | Kreutz (FR)
RG | Pihlstrom (rs-JR) | Slaughter (rs-SO) | Tyler (FR)
RT | Palczewski (SR) | Pearl (rs-SO) | Okpala (rs-FR)
WR-slot | Williams (rs-FR) | Armstrong (JR) | Frenchie (FR)
WR-X | Hightower (JR) | Thompson (rs-JR) | Campbell (rs-FR)
WR-Y | Navarro (JR) | Sandy (SO) | Beason (rs-FR)

LOLB | Gay (SR) | Coleman (rs-FR) | Mondesir (SR)
LE | Randolph (rs-FR) | Pate (rs-JR) | McConnell (FR)
NT | Perry (SR) | Avery (JR) | Shipton (JR)
RE | Newton (FR) | Woods (SR) | Riggins (FR)
ROLB | Carney (SR) | Holmes (rs-SO) | Schultz (rs-FR-walkon)
LLB | Hart (rs-SO) | Cooper (rs-FR) | Meed (SO-walkon)
ILB1 | Hansen (SR) | T. Barnes (SO) | Rosiek (FR)
ILB2 | Tolson (JR) | McEachern (JR) | Darkangelo (SO-walkon)
CB | Witherspoon (SO) | K. Smith (SR) | Edwards (FR)
CB | Adams (SR) | Leitzsey (SR) | Nicholson (FR)
SS | S. Brown (JR) | Hudson (SR) | D. Smith (JR)
FS | Martin (JR) | E. Smith (JR) | Joseph (JR)
Kicker | McCourt (SR) | Griffin (rs-SO)
Punter | Hayes (SR) | Robertson (FR)
Longsnapper | Tabel (SR) | Hall (rs-FR)
Punt Return | Navarro (JR) | Cumby (rs-FR)
KO Return | Cumby (rs-FR) | Love (FR)

I covered most of the changes above, but a few more thoughts:

+ I put Deuce Spann as the #3 quarterback because I think Spann has the best arm out of the remaining QB's. And "arm" is apparently everything for the QB in this offense. Running? Doesn't seem to really matter. Hit the TE on a 10 yard out and hit the WR on a 20 yard out? Looks like that's how the QB's will be judged. A fan who has been in a coma since 1995 would look at those sentences above and say "ummm... you just stated the most obvious thing ever".

Now, this is not to say that the rest of the QB's all stay. It's possible that anyone with a "DUAL" next to their recruiting profile will look elsewhere for an offense that would use their running ability. I'm just looking at the current roster, looking at the transfer coming in, and saying that I see it as Peters-Sitkowski-Spann.

+ Yes, I continue to leave Colgate OL transfer Jack Badovinac off the depth chart. But that's because of my theory that he's being recruited to be Doug Kramer's replacement at center in 2022. I think Badovinac will redshirt this fall (which technically means he can play in up to four games), so I'm not adding him to the chart just yet. I think he sits and then possibly grabs a starting spot in 2022.

+ Someone asked about Beason in the comments of the last depth chart post, wondering why I had a top-100 recruit as a third-stringer in his third year. My answer: that is 100% injury-based. I'll just recap real quick...

  • Injured his knee in training camp back in 2019. Missed the entire season.
  • Was still rehabbing the knee in the spring so he would have missed 2020 spring practice (had it not been canceled because of Covid.)
  • Was limited in training camp last August before camp was shut down. It was restarted in September, and he was participating, and then he played in 6 of the 9 games last fall. My guess at the time, given his limited snaps (and the fact that he missed a few games): they were being extremely careful with his knee. Just a guess, but I remember when he was announced as out for the Minnesota game in November I had this thought of "is this knee ever going to be 100%?".
  • He then moved to wide receiver after one week of training camp... and was injured in the first practice at WR, missing the next nine practices. Bielema said he wasn't cleared by doctors until the Saturday before the spring game, so he only participated in a few plays.

So as I said yesterday, it makes me think of Dre Brown. Dre tore one ACL his very first spring (as an early enrollee) and then tore the other ACL his second spring. He was supposed to return at the start of his third season (more than 17 months past his second ACL repair) but another knee surgery (his fifth) to clean up some things held him out until mid-October. At that point he had missed all of his freshman year, all of his sophomore year, and half of his junior year. And on the depth charts I kept him down at 4th running back.

In 2018 he started to break out, especially returning kickoffs. He also nearly had 100 yards rushing in the Minnesota game. And then in 2019, he's voted Offensive MVP and was an absolute monster on that final drive to beat Michigan State and clinch a bowl.

So that's how I see Beason. Missing more than half of the spring with an injury isn't a good sign, but here's hoping for 100% health come August. And then, hopefully, a climb from "will he ever play?" to "team offensive MVP".

+ It's interesting how similar the Sitkowski and Peters transfers were. Four-stars who started early elsewhere and then were recruited-over and moved to another Big Ten school. As I wrote in the LLUOI post, at first I was scratching my head, but now, especially after the Williams position change, I'm pretty much at "Sitkowski starts in 2022 and 2023". Catch me in the right mood and I might even climb to "will he challenge Peters for the starting job this fall?".

I mean, that's not likely, and he still has to show his accuracy issues are a thing of the past, so perhaps he never even plays in Champaign and we go chase a transfer QB this time next season. If some of these dual-threat QB's eventually transfer out (which is my expectation), then they'll need to find someone to challenge Sitkowski in camp in 2022.

But when making this depth chart, it was very easy to put Sitkowski at number two this fall, and that's a long way from scratching my head when I heard the news.

+ One last thing. Here's a quick peek at the depth chart had the 2020 seniors not returned for a Super Senior season:

QB | Sitkowski (rs-SO)
RB | C. Brown (rs-SO)
TE1 | Barker (rs-JR)
TE2 | Ford (rs-SO)
LT | Pearl (rs-SO)
LG | Brown (rs-SO)
C | Jeresaty (SR)
RG | Pihlstrom (rs-JR)
RT | Okpala (rs-FR)
WR-slot | Williams (rs-FR)
WR-X | Hightower (JR)
WR-Y | Navarro (JR)

LOLB | Coleman (rs-FR)
LE | Randolph (rs-FR)
NT | Avery (JR)
RE | Newton (FR)
ROLB | Holmes (rs-SO)
LLB | Hart (rs-SO)
ILB1 | T. Barnes (SO)
ILB2 | Tolson (JR)
CB | Witherspoon (SO)
CB | Nicholson (FR)
S | S. Brown (JR)
S | Martin (JR)

It's nice to have all 17 back (21 when you count the four walkons who went on scholarship this spring). But specifically, getting Peters, Lowe, Kramer, Palcho, Carney, Gay, Hansen, and Adams back is a massive boost to this depth chart. As you can see from all the freshmen and sophomores on that list right there, several positions would have had to go really young without the super seniors. Now, there's another year for player development.

Did I cover everything. I think I covered everything. Depth chart status: FINAL.


Nashvegas Illini on May 5, 2021 @ 02:07 PM

So I nailed the QB thing so for my next prediction.... A lot of these guys will be transferring out after this year. I know that's not a good one but its going to be a lot. Take the 17 seniors and add 20 transfers on top of that? I'll say it's a small as 10 and as high as 22.

Robert, you do a great job on breaking this down on how the scholarships would work so I wont even attempt.

One more thought. This will be the most competitive team we've seen in some time due to having depth. To me this means this year is the best year to evaluate how the schemes compete in the BIG west. We could win the West this year or we could be blown out again by Iowa and Northwestern. I'm leaning toward winning the West but don't know enough about our opponents rosters to make it my next prediction.

iluvrt on May 5, 2021 @ 03:46 PM

7-6 with a bowl win

O&B4life on May 5, 2021 @ 03:58 PM

I understand needing to make those 10yd and 20yd throws. But it seems that in college FB, if you don't have a QB that can at least be a threat to run for 5-10 yards on a breakdown (or designed run) you are playing 10v11

IBFan on May 5, 2021 @ 09:36 PM

I’ve seen this expression a lot and it has become a “thing”.
Realistically very few college or pro quarterbacks can survive being a running back who can kind of play qb. Not only does the loss of an effective passer cost you more offensively than what a running qb can give you they also don’t hold up physically. Yes there are exceptions.

The Olaf Rules on May 6, 2021 @ 01:35 AM

I like the options that come with having Barker and Ford on the field at the same time.

ktal on May 7, 2021 @ 02:25 PM

I think these super seniors are going to be on an absolute mission this year. I'd be interested to know how many other schools on our schedule have as many returnees with such an agenda?

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