Spring Football Thoughts

Apr 7, 2022

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I just spent 14 hours as an accountant. Or maybe a business manager. Spreadsheets and tax forms and expense reports. I can write 10,000 words for the football preview in 14 hours and not feel stressed; 14 hours of this is just exhausting. BUT, I did finally reimburse my expenses from early December until today. And the forms required by the tax preparer are complete.

Next on the list? Share some thoughts on spring football so far. We get to see about 15 minutes of practice each day (only individual position drills - no actual football), and each day I go to our Slack channel and write up my thoughts on those 15 minutes. I realized that I've only written about spring football on the website once so far (the depth chart post a few weeks ago), so let's fix that. With a whole bunch of plus signs.

+ Everybody always wants to know about quarterback so I'll talk quarterback first.

First off, after his two surgeries (one for the broken wrist from the Penn State game, then for the shoulder), Art Sitkowski has only returned to "soft tossing". There's still a long rehab process to get him ready to throw in August. So he's not taking any snaps in practice. Also, we don't get to see any snaps in practice.

This means there's no way to evaluate the Jersey Boys battle (that's not just a joke I made on Twitter when DeVito committed - one of the Four Seasons was literally named Tommy DeVito). The battle won't happen until August. Many seem to think that it's DeVito's job, but I'll point out two things:

  1. Sitkowski played through the shoulder injury last season, waiting until after the season to have surgery. So we might see a different Art this season. The old "but then he got the nagging injury fixed and after that..."
  2. No one seems to remember that Sitkowski was named the starter for the Penn State game and Brandon Peters was sent to the bench. Because of Peters' late season play (Penn State overtime, Minnesota, Northwestern), everyone seems to remember last season as "Peters beat out Sitkowski". But after the Wisconsin loss, Peters was benched and Sitkowski was named the starter. Art was the QB for the entire game and then the first six overtimes before breaking his wrist. Peters came in for the 7th, 8th, and 9th OT (throwing the winning TD to Casey Washington in the bottom of the 9th) and then remained the starter the rest of the season.

I say that to just point out that Sitkowski could very well win the job in August. In fact, I think that the switch from Peters to Sitkowski for Penn State was partly to get him prepared to be the starter in 2022. If the staff was willing to go with 75%-healthy Sitkowski in 2021, they might very well go with 100% Sitkowski in 2022. This will be a QB battle.

That said, I'd like to address Tommy DeVito:

I love you, baby, and if it's quite all right
I need you, baby, to warm these lonely night (games)
I love you, baby
Trust in me when I say

We'll know more after the spring game, obviously. But it's so easy to see why Tommy DeVito was a four-star coming out of high school. He has a four-star arm. Zippity zip zip.

And it's even more evident when he's in a throwing drill with the other three quarterbacks going through spring ball. Sitkowski is still rehabbing, Matt Robinson entered the transfer portal, and Donovan Leary isn't here yet, so the four quarterbacks are DeVito, freshman Samari Collier, and two walkons - Ryan Johnson and student-equipment-manager-turned-walkon-QB Jake Huber. So when you have a fifth-year QB (who was a 4-star recruit) like DeVito going through drills with a kid in the spring of his freshman year + two walkons, you'd better look like you're dominating.

Even given all of that, I'd say DeVito is better than I expected. Again, these are just position drills, so it's the quarterbacks paired with the tight ends for five minutes throwing one route with no pass rush. But DeVito has been rather stunningly accurate when I've watched him. I feel like I'm pretty good at evaluating "five minutes throwing one route with no pass rush" as it relates to regular football, and I'm impressed well beyond what I thought I'd be seeing.

Walks like a man.

+ Let's maybe discuss my biggest concern next: defensive end. Sorry, "outside linebacker." I'm going to do that forever, it seems.

Gone are Owen Carney and Isaiah Gay. Carney was consistent most of the season last year (and played a ton of snaps), and Gay saw the light bulb come on at Penn State and was maybe our second-best defensive player the second half of the season. Let's just go from one side to the other.

Carney played the most snaps on the entire defense last season (799). His backup, Ezekiel Holmes, played 68 snaps. They were the only two OLB's who could play the "big" side (I use "big" and "small" for the two OLB spots). With Carney gone, Holmes moves into the starting spot by default. But is he ready to go from 68 snaps to 700?

If he's not, it will have to be redshirt freshman Virginia Tech transfer Alec Bryant. Bryant looks a lot like Carney body-wise, so that's encouraging, but is he ready for 500-some snaps if Holmes can't handle it? And if neither can do it, what does the staff do? Start freshman Gabe Jacas the moment he arrives on campus? Put one of the 225-lb guys over there? Scramble around this summer to find a DE in the transfer portal? This spot is a concern.

The "small" OLB spot is less of a concern. Isaiah Gay had 622 snaps, Seth Coleman had 223 (these all come from PFF's snap counts, by the way). I think Coleman is ready for his starring role. He's the kind of athlete they want at that spot (run like a linebacker, play like a defensive end). Backing him up is a mix of guys. Sophomore DJ Johnson is the most likely second-stringer (he was one of only a few freshmen to not redshirt last season). Maybe freshman Jared Badie will be ready sooner rather than later? It's thin - if Johnson isn't ready to be the backup, there might be another scramble - but there's more hope on this side because Seth Coleman should be ready to take the next step.

If they do pursue the portal this summer? DE is probably the most likely spot to add someone.

Sorry - OLB.

+ Safety is the other spot to watch (except, like, I can't really watch). All we can watch are position drills, so there's no way to view any three-safety formations (like we saw for so much of last season). Quan Martin was the "third" safety (Star) last season and he played 592 snaps. So when you have three safeties play 796, 716, and 592 snaps, yes, you have a three-safety defense.

Kerby Joseph left early for the NFL Draft. Sydney Brown and Quan Martin return. So finding that third safety is a big goal for this spring.

Kendall Smith put his name in the transfer portal after the season but then pulled his name out and returned to Illinois for a sixth season. I'm interpreting that as "he was looking for playing time, and after Kerby declared, the staff told him that there's a fair bit of playing time available in Kerby's spot." So the most likely third safety - I'm thinking Quan takes Kerby's spot and Smith would play the "Star" position - is probably Kendall Smith.

But then there's my guy Kionte Curry. Remember, I went a little nutso on Curry in his LLUOI post. Gave out my highest rating in the 2021 class. And he's also a Bielema recruit, which is usually "found some guys not verballed anywhere and added them to this class I inherited because I want to get them on the field as soon as I can".

Here's what I said when I wrote up the Curry LLUOI:

I probably need to calm down. Rivals rates him as a 5.5, so the lowest 3-star rating. 247 rates him as an 83, so a lower-third 3-star. I'm likely seeing something I want to see (again).

But I said the same thing when I wrote the Chase Brown LLUOI. "Robert you're giving a Western Michigan transfer running back who only had 352 rushing yards at WMU 3.5 Cruises?" And now I'm wishing I would have followed my gut and given Chase Brown 4 Cruises.

So I'll land in the middle here.

Kionte Curry - Three and three-quarter Tom Cruises.

I'm happy to see that Curry is at safety. He was with the corners last August, and while they always bounce players back and forth, I was kinda hoping to see him at safety this spring. I'm guessing it's a battle between Smith and Curry for that third safety spot.

Actually, I probably shouldn't say that. I'm basing that off position drills. I need to see the spring game first. I liked Prince Green at practice last year (rangy), and Coran Taylor had his year learning safety last year and now he might be ready to contribute. So I don't want to restrict this just to Smith and Curry. Need that spring game (two weeks from today!).

+ Offensive line is the other spot to watch. Maybe I'll just make a list of five questions here:

  1. Palcho started at tackle last year but then moved to guard. With Vederian Lowe gone (and Julian Pearl likely moving into his spot at LT), does Palcho go back to right guard?
  2. We can only watch position drills, but when watching position drills the guys getting the first reps are the guys being pushed towards "go win this starting spot". So right now, redshirt freshman Zach Barlev and redshirt junior Jordan Slaughter seem to be the two guys who will get the first shot at the guard spots.
  3. Center seems to be a battle between senior Alex Philstrom and redshirt freshman Josh Kreutz. Kreutz is the eventual starting center. But is he ready now or will it be Pihlstrom for a year?
  4. Julian Pearl has a big club on his hand (hurt his thumb playing basketball). So that has given juco-transfer Isaiah Adams a lot of snaps as the starting left tackle, I'm guessing. Is that just because Pearl is injured or is that because he's ready to play immediately?
  5. And if he's ready to play immediately, does that send Palcho back inside with Adams and Pearl as your two starting tackles?

Spring game. We'll learn more in the spring game.

+ Let's see, what else? Maybe a quick list of "other stuff" and then I'll hit publish.

  • Seems like the top three receivers are set with Isaiah Williams, Casey Washington, and Pat Bryant.
  • I really like freshman WR Eian Pugh. But he had two drops today in the 10 minutes we could watch and that sent me back to "oh, right, it's really hard to be ready as a freshman."
  • I need a hot take here. Let's see... got it. Tip Reiman might be the #1 tight end.
  • We'll have to see how it all shakes out in the spring game but it feels like linebacker is set. Tarique Barnes and Calvin Hart are the top two, and then the third linebacker is probably The Dark Angel (Isaac Darkangelo).
  • Corner! I need to talk about corner. Tony Adams is gone, so Devon Witherspoon needs a playing partner. I've been assuming it's Taz Nicholson (he started 2 games in front of Adams last year), but maybe it's a freshman like Tyler Strain?
  • During "indy" (individual drills) the specialists are usually doing absolutely nothing. So I have no kicking, punting, or longsnapping takes.
  • Barry Lunney has a unique set of "indy" drills for his quarterbacks, tight ends, and receivers. I don't know if all of his practices are like that, but of the eight offensive coordinators I've watched put their QB's and receivers through indy drills, Lunney's drills are by far the most unique.

But I don't know if any of that means anything. Have to wait until the... wait for it... I'm guessing you know the final two words I'm going to type here......

Spring game.


timedo on April 7, 2022 @ 05:46 PM

Appreciate the insight!

Bear8287 on April 7, 2022 @ 09:28 PM

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HailToTheOrange on April 8, 2022 @ 09:57 AM

I really, really hope it's DeVito

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