Early Spring Three-Deep

Mar 22, 2022

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My heart isn't in it at this point. My brain is stuck in PPG Paints Arena, very specifically at the point where Houston pushed it to a double digit lead with 3:00 left and I began to force myself to accept that it was over. But there are only 15 spring football practices, and then there's nothing to cover (football or basketball-wise) until training camp, so I'm going to go to the 15 minute open periods at practice until my heart catches up and rejoins me.

For today, I was just watching the player rotations during individual drills. And that allows me to put together a depth chart. A few notes:

  • This is a "first snap against Wyoming on August 27th" depth chart, not a "here's the depth chart as of today". Some players on here won't arrive until early August. But this is my guess at the 1-2-3 at every position once the season starts.
  • Freshmen who aren't here yet are noted in italics.
  • I'm going with two tight ends (for when we're in those sets) and three wide receivers (for when we're in those sets) on offense.
  • I'm going with 5 DL positions and 5 DB positions (plus two inside linebacker spots) for the same reason. 12 spots, there will be 11 starters.
  • Currently injured players are still listed here. For example, Julian Pearl wasn't out there today (Bielema said he hurt his thumb), but I'm still listing him as a starter because, well, he's a certain starter once the season gets here.

First the depth chart, then some notes.

QB | Sitkowski (JR) | DeVito (SR) | Collier (rs-FR)
RB | C. Brown (JR) | McCray (SO) | Love (rs-SO)
TE1 | Ford (SR) | Moore (rs-SO) | Boyer (FR)
TE2 | Reiman (SO) | Marchese (SR) | O. Anderson (FR)
LT | Pearl (JR) | Adams (JR) | Cronin (rs-SO walkon)
LG | Slaughter (JR) | Gesky (rs-FR) | Wisecarver (rs-FR)
C | Pihlstrom (SR) | Kreutz (rs-FR) | Plohr (rs-SO)
RG | Barlev (rs-FR) | Kirts (rs-SO) | Okla (FR)
RT | Palczewski (SR) | Crisler (SO) | Whitenack (FR)
WR | Williams (rs-SO) | M. Scott (rs-FR walkon) | Beatty (FR)
WR | C. Washington (JR) | Hightower (SR) | Pugh (FR)
WR | P. Bryant (SO) | Thompson (JR) | S. Miller (FR)

ROLB | Coleman (rs-SO) | Johnson (SO) | Badie (FR)
RDL | Randolph (rs-SO) | Woods (SR) | McConnell (rs-FR)
NT | Avery (SR) | V. Brown (JR) | T. Edwards (SO)
LDL| Newton (SO) | B. Barnes (SO) | Pate (SR)
LOLB | Holmes (rs-JR) | A. Bryant (rs-FR) | Jacas (FR)
ILB1 | T. Barnes (JR) | Darkangelo (SR) | Cooper (rs-SO)
ILB2 | Hart (JR) | Meed (rs-SO) | Rosiek (rs-FR)
CB | Witherspoon (JR) | Strain (rs-FR) | Snyder (rs-FR)
CB | Nicholson (SO) | Leitzsey (SR) | D. Edwards (rs-FR)
STAR | Curry (rs-FR) | K. Smith (SR) | Mc-Cantos (FR)
S | S. Brown (SR) | Taylor (JR) | Bailey (FR)
S | Martin (SR) | P. Green (rs-FR) | T. Griffin (FR)

Kicker | Griffin (JR) | McManus (FR)
Punter | Robertson (rs-FR) | Leff (FR-walkon)
Longsnapper | Hall (rs-SO) | L. Hansen (rs-FR)
Punt Return | Laughery (FR) | M. Scott (rs-FR walkon)
KO Return | No One - We'll Fair Catch It 83 Times

A run through of each position and some notes.

1. Quarterback is likely a two-man battle. Right now I have Sitkowski 1 and Devito 2 but it could go either way. This is not some big statement on quarterbacks even though that's where everyone always looks when they go through a depth chart. For this battle, we simply know what it is. Sitkowski and Devito battle and then someone is named the starter before the season.

2. I don't think Running Back needs much discussion either. We know with 90% certainty that Chase Brown and Josh McCray will be the 1-2 punch. Right now I have Reggie Love as the third tailback, but others could join that mix.

3. Tight End is similar. Lots of Luke Ford and Tip Reiman. Nothing to go on yet to determine which guys might be 3 & 4.

4. The rotation at Wide Receiver has seemed fairly clear (starter-wise) since all of the departures happened after the season. With Donny Navarro (167 yards), Deuce Spann (124 yards), Dalevon Campbell (50 yards), and Carlos Sandy (16 yards) all gone, there are only three receivers who had receiving yards last season: Isaiah Williams (525 yards), Casey Washington (294 yards), and Pat Bryant (98 yards). The staff seems to love Bryant so I would have had him in the top-3 even if he didn't have receiving yards last season, so those seem like the clear top three at this point. After that it's probably wide open.

5. Offensive Line was the most interesting thing to study today. Julian Pearl wasn't practicing, and the line will change several times between now and the first game (sometimes a guy will be at guard all spring and the PRESTO he's at center once fall camp starts), but for now, with the interior line today being Slaughter at LG, Pihlstrom at C, and Barlev at RG for the one part of practice we watched, that's what I'm going with for the starters.

6. For the three interior Defensive Line spots I didn't change a thing from how I had it on my January depth chart. Avery-Brown-Edwards is the clear rotation at NT and then the only question is the rotation behind the Law Firm Of Newton & Randolph.

7. At Outside Linebacker, with both Owen Carney and Isaiah Gay having graduated, we get to see the biggest offseason battles on the defense. For now, to replace Gay, it's a battle between Seth Coleman and DJ Johnson. To replace Carney, it's a battle between Ezekiel Holmes and Virginia Tech transfer Alec Bryant. The biggest surprise at that spot. Safety Joriell Washington was working out at OLB today.

8. At least for today, Shammond Cooper was back at Inside Linebacker. He bounced between OLB and ILB last season. Feels like the starters are set with Calvin Hart and Tarique Barnes, but then things get interesting with two walkons-turned-scholarship-players (Isaac Darkangelo and Ryan Meed) possibly factoring in ahead of some of the brought-here-on-scholarship guys.

9. Cornerback, with Tony Adams gone, seems like it will be the two guys with starts last season: Devon Witherspoon started 10 games and Taz Nicholson started 2 games. But it's pretty wide open, and all of the redshirt freshmen could factor in.

10. At Safety I made a switch based on something Bret Bielema said about maybe using Quan Martin at a different spot. With Kerby Joseph off to the draft, perhaps they move Quan Martin to his spot and then use someone else at that "Star" position. For now, I'm pairing Quan and Syd at the two safety spots and then putting redshirt freshman Kionte Curry at Star. Mostly because I've been hyping Curry for over a year and don't see any reason to stop now even though I have no evidence yet that he'd be in the rotation as a redshirt freshman.

One other note. I'll just pick two players who were "you know, he's probably going to be a bigger factor this fall than I thought". One on offense, one on defense.

Offense: walkon WR Miles Scott
Defense: OLB Ezekiel Holmes

And I'll end with the disclaimer. I'm making some assumptions here based on one practice. Much will change. Since it's March Madness time I'll use college basketball to make my point. This is the under-16 timeout in the first half. Yes, we've learned a few things, but there's so much more we're going to learn in the next 36 minutes of the game. So much will change. For now, though, that's my depth chart.

Now back to trying to avoid thinking about basketball.


illinisludge on March 22, 2022 @ 11:48 PM

Here's hoping there's only 36 kickoff returns, about 3 a game.

Eagle on March 23, 2022 @ 01:57 PM

Thanks for the review. Appreciate your insight as always. I think Hank Beatty will spell IW at slot sometimes and I expect a pleasant surprise from him. He’s Dudek-like, adjusts his route well and catches everything thrown his direction. Can also throw the ball on the option too.

ktcesw on March 23, 2022 @ 02:47 PM

The coaches need to create a spot for Cooper. He may not fit into their positional demands but, there is a place for an athletic, quick-strike guy in a defense.

SactownIllini on March 23, 2022 @ 04:59 PM

I feel like we're average QB play away from being a bowl team. We had some big losses, but I like some of the young guys coming in to fill their shoes. Also we saw the magic act Ryan Walters was able to do, and here's hoping Lunney can do the same on offense! He has a solid track record.

Gadwallgetter on March 25, 2022 @ 02:24 AM

I’m so confused…so does (SR) mean this is that player’s LAST season? Like for real LAST season?

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