Pre-Camp Depth Chart
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So, uh, training camp is probably less than three weeks away? It usually starts the first week of August, but this year, with the Nebraska game moved to Week Zero (August 28th), camp starts a week earlier for Illinois and Nebraska. Which probably means some time in late July.
Now, there's been some changes to the NCAA rules for training camp. This May, the NCAA dropped preseason contact practices from 21 to 18 and further restricted full-pad practices. Some coaches condense training camp, some coaches stretch it out with walkthrough/film days in between. So camp might start the first day practices are allowed or it might start a few days later and be condensed. Bielema's choice.
My point: we can start earlier because we have a Week Zero game. And there's a chance that's 18 days from now. So, uh, it's very close.
Which means I need a pre-camp three-deep after the eight players left the program a few weeks ago. All of the players who left were third string or lower on my last depth chart, but still, this is a three-deep and it needs updating.
Players who are new to the program since last season are in italics.
QB | Peters (SR) | Sitkowski (rs-SO) | Spann (FR)
RB | C. Brown (rs-SO) | Epstein (SR) | 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) | Okpala (rs-FR) | Kirts (rs-FR)
LG | Jeresaty (SR) | V. Brown (rs-SO) | Wisecarver (FR)
C | Kramer (SR) | Badovinac (SR) | Kreutz (rs-FR)
RG | Pihlstrom (rs-JR) | Slaughter (rs-SO) | Plohr (rs-FR)
RT | Palczewski (SR) | Pearl (rs-SO) | Gesky (FR)
WR-slot | Williams (rs-FR) | Armstrong (JR) | Sandy (SO)
WR-X | Hightower (JR) | Thompson (rs-JR) | Campbell (SO)
WR-Y | Navarro (JR) | Beason (rs-FR) | Bryant (FR)
LOLB | Gay (SR) | Coleman (rs-FR) | Mondesir (SR)
LE | Randolph (rs-FR) | Pate (rs-JR) | McConnell (FR)
NT | Perry (SR) | Avery (JR) | McCoy (FR)
RE | Newton (FR) | Woods (SR) | McConnell (FR)
ROLB | Carney (SR) | Holmes (rs-SO) | B. Barnes (SO-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) | Nicholson (FR) | Leitzsey (SR)
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) | Williams (rs-FR)
KO Return | Love (FR) | Norwood (SO)
A few notes:
- First off, an explanation on the 12 positions for each side of the ball. On offense, sometimes we'll be in twin TE looks, sometimes we'll be in three WR looks, so I need a depth chart to allow for both. On defense, my "LLB" position is a guess. I think the staff will use three traditional linebackers in certain packages (dropping one of the defensive linemen or one of the OLB's), so my "left linebacker" comes in for those packages and is on the field at the same time as the two inside 'backers. Repeating: just a guess.
- After the departure of Anthony Shipton and Tre'Von Riggins, I realized that for those three interior DL spots - LE, NT, and RE - there's only eight guys. And I don't think any of the freshmen will be moved there. So there's not enough for a three-deep. I have freshman Sed McConnell as the third-stringer at both RE and LE.
- If you're looking for a spot where the staff might look for some transfers in the offseason, look there. Rod Perry and Jamal Woods graduate. Deon Pate and Calvin Avery will both technically be seniors (but can return in 2022 with the Covid waiver). So there's a chance that only four players return next season. For three positions. Let me emphasize that again. If I did a three-deep right now for 2022, there wouldn't be any third-stringers - nine boxes to fill in, six players total. And if Avery and Pate graduate and move on after this season, there's only four players for the nine spots in 2022. Red alert.
- As always, my depth charts are not gameday depth charts. Julian Pearl will be the backup this year for both offensive tackle spots (or he might even start), but that's not how I'm listing these depth charts. This is more "here's the next guy at that position" and such.
- Speaking of offensive tackle, Moses Okpala was at right tackle this spring but I'm moving him to left tackle (and then starting him there next year). Mostly because of this picture.
- I should note that some of these positions are really two "groups" - those who will be part of the rotation, and those who won't. I think there will be five players rotating at linebacker: Jake Hansen, Khalan Tolson, Tarique Barnes, Shammond Cooper, and CJ Hart. So in a way, there's five guys on the "depth chart" and then the rest are mostly up there on the chart because they'll fill out the special teams.
Maybe I should also list the training camp battles I see. Maybe I'll even rank them.
- Safety. I think it's wide open. Sydney Brown is a two-year starter, and Quan Martin has started 15 games in his career, but this is a new scheme with new coaches and I could see incoming transfers Eddie Smith (from Alabama) and Prather Hudson (from Georgia) winning the spots.
- Right Guard. Alex Pihlstrom, who was put on scholarship last year, was with the first string offensive line during the spring game while Verdis Brown was with the second team (mostly at left guard). Does that mean they see Brown as more of a left guard and he'll be battling with Blake Jeresaty for that spot? Or is it still a battle between last year's starter (Brown) and the spring starter (Pihlstrom) for the RG spot?
- Linebacker next to Jake Hansen. I think it will be Khalan Tolson - I think Tolson is the most underrated player on the entire roster, to be honest - but it really could be one of any of these four guys: Khalan Tolson, Tarique Barnes, Shammond Cooper, or CJ Hart.
- Quarterback - I first wrote "backup quarterback" here, but maybe I should just write "quarterback"? What if Rutgers transfer Artur Sitkowski lights it up at camp? Could he win the job? Maybe I'll nominate that for Thing We Should Be Talking About But Aren't Really Talking About.
- Punt Returner - Uh, Isaiah Williams could be the greatest punt returner in Illinois history, right? OK, yes, he'll need to work on his hands for quite a while before he's ready. So go with Donny for now. But it's interesting to dream about.
I think that covers it. This is a new staff, so expect some surprises once we see the true depth chart during the Nebraska game.
Which is somehow seven weeks away.