Looks Like University Of Illinois - Zy Crisler
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I believe I have six of these remaining. And as I keep going through the recent recruits/transfers, the high school recruits who committed (and signed) months ago sink further and further down the pile. There's also two "verballed but haven't signed yet" recruits (I'm guessing that means they're blueshirts), but I typically hold off on those until they're enrolled. No disrespect to either athlete, but many times "verballed but didn't sign" is recruiting speak for "still has work to do in the classroom in order to clear every Clearinghouse hurdle." So I'll write those once they're enrolled.
That means my to-do list for February has the two junior college offensive linemen (Crisler and Isaiah Adams) and then the four high school recruits I haven't evaluated yet (Bailey, Rooks, Jacas, and Mc-Cantos). Gonna start with Crisler and Adams since they're gonna be pushing for a spot in the rotation when spring ball starts next month. Crisler first.
Zy Crisler is a first-year juco recruit. Which means that he had to have been a full qualifier out of high school in order to go from juco to FBS after one year. I don't know all of the specific rules, but typically, if you're not a full qualifier through the NCAA Clearinghouse out of high school, you need your two years at juco (associates degree) before you can transfer up. According to Coach Bielema at the February signing day press conference, they were out on a recruiting trip at Mississippi Gulf Coast, found out that Crisler was a full qualifier, and pushed to not only get him to commit but to also enroll immediately. He did and he did. He's now enrolled and will be participating in spring practice.
Which, when you combine that with the news that Alex Palczewski will be returning for a bonus season, is a big boost, not only this fall but also for spring practice. Palcho will certainly be in the lineup (like he has been since 2017), and if Crisler makes a push for one of the starting spots, better to get him in there in the spring instead of the fall.
Maybe that's where we should start here. The spring depth chart. I just put together a depth chart for the fall (including the freshmen who aren't here yet), but if we take those guys off and just look at spring ball, let's talk through where Crisler (and Adams) might fit.
For now I'll guess that when the team runs out there for the first practice in a month, the first string offensive line is as follows:
LT: Julian Pearl
LG: Alex Pihlstrom
C: Josh Kreutz
RG: Jordyn Slaughter
RT: Alex Palczewski
Now, it's possible that they like the combo of Pearl and Palcho so much that they leave them where they were at the end of the season - Pearl at right tackle and Palcho at right guard. And starting with the Penn State game, Alex Pihlstrom was at tackle (as you might remember, when Vederian Lowe went out with an injury, Pihlstrom came in at left tackle). So maybe that move during the bye week before Penn State (Palcho to guard, Pearl to tackle, Pihlstrom to backup tackle, Badovinac to starting left guard) becomes a permanent one (all except for Badovinac who graduated). That would mean the line might be Pihlstrom-Slaughter-Kreutz-Palcho-Pearl.
But neither Slaughter nor Kreutz are in ink. Pearl and Palcho are in ink, and Pihlstrom is written in one of those Pilot "erasable ink" pens since he started 5 of the 12 games last season. But the other two are in pencil.
(Quality alliteration there. Now I'm wishing I would have put Josh Plohr as the starting center. "Please use a Pilot pen to put Pearl, Palcho, Pihlstrom, and Plohr in ink.")
For the purposes of this discussion, let's go with the line I have listed above. Pearl and Palcho at tackle and then three battles for inside spots. Pihlstrom is in erasable ink. Kreutz is in pencil since he's still just a redshrit freshman. And Slaughter is in pencil since he's returning from missing an entire season with an ankle injury (and he's only started one game in his career).
Bielema noted that Zy Crisler could play any of four positions for them (both guard and tackle spots, just not center), and Bielema said the same of Isaiah Adams, the other juco enrollee, so both of those guys will likely be battling Pihlstrom and Slaughter for the two guard spots. I think the main competition at center is Josh Kreutz and Josh Plohr, and I think the main competition with Pearl and Palcho at tackle is Zach Barlev and Evan Kirts, so that leaves these two jucos to battle with Pihlstrom and Slaughter for the two guard spots.
(Oh man the shuffle just hit me with Raining In Baltimore by Counting Crows. All-time mood song for me. It's an absolute time machine back to the summer of 1994, unable to sleep, sitting outside in a patio chair wondering if she was a future girlfriend or just a girl. I need a phone call. I need a plane ride. I need a sunburn. I need a raincoat.)
I guess there's one thing with Crisler that I'm not acknowledging here. In terms of body type coming into the program, he's nearly identical to Vederian Lowe. So perhaps there's a scenario where he's ready immediately (Lowe was) and the reason they keep Palcho and Pearl at RG and RT is because Crisler is ready to take over for V at left tackle. That would then put Pihlstrom and Slaughter battling for the other guard spot and Kreutz and Plohr battling for center.
Because Crisler is tall (listed by the school as 6'-7" when he enrolled) and athletic. How athletic? 350 lbs. and he can still dunk:
Still got it ! 😂 pic.twitter.com/1Zwn1xLDBq— Zylon crisler (@D1_Zy) January 8, 2022
And while we're watching videos, instead of gifs I'll just go with this video that Bielema showed at the press conference:
To me, for whatever reason, he looks like a guard. In terms of "really big offensive linemen", he looks a little more like Chris Boles than Vederian Lowe. So maybe a guard like Boles?
Then again, we just went through a season rotating three smaller guys on the interior of the offensive line (6'-2" Doug Kramer, 6'-2" Blake Jeresaty, and 6'-1" Jack Badovinac). So maybe this staff likes smaller, quicker guys inside and Crisler is destined for tackle.
Wherever he lands, the big takeaway here is this: it's good to get another OL in here. Remember the big brouhaha when Bielema talked about how he didn't have any offensive linemen from the 2019, 2020, and 2021 classes in the two-deep (when everyone thought he was talking about the entire roster)? Well, that remains a big concern. On senior day he watched Verderian Lowe, Doug Kramer, Blake Jeresaty, Alex Palczewski, and Jack Badovinac walk across the field taking 45 of the 60 individual 2021 OL starts with them. That's a massive drop-off no matter what team you're talking about. All that was going to be returning: Julian Pearl's 10 starts and Alex Pihlstrom's 5 starts.
Then he got a big boost from Palcho being approved for a sixth season. So instead of 15 returning starts it's 27. Then there's another boost with Jordyn Slaughter, who had started the final game in 2020 but then missed the entire 2021 season with an injury, getting a clean bill of health and returning to workouts.
And now another boost finding Zy Crisler at a Mississippi juco and Isaiah Adams at a Kansas juco. If nothing else, it provides depth as he reworks the line from the Lowe-Kramer-Palcho Lovie Smith offensive line to the future Bret Bielema offensive line. It's a transition year for sure, and plugging in a juco like Crisler is a solid gap filler. Now let's hope he's a gap opener.
Offer-wise he didn't have much other than Illinois (his Twitter only lists Southern Miss and Alcorn State), so I can't go very high on Cruises. But this is a solid depth piece that hopefully turns out to be a (massive) diamond in the rough.
Zy Crisler - Two and one-quarter Tom Cruises.