Always Next Year
I believe I've had "October 12, 2019" in my Twitter profile for more than two years now. Right after Lovie was hired, I looked at the schedule for his fourth season and landed on the Michigan game as our next Moment. Revenge for the officiating disaster of 2000. Another big breakthrough Illini Football moment vs. Michigan (1924, 1951, 1983, 1999).
So as that date approaches, I've been keeping track of the players we might see play in that game. I wrote about it in this post back in October, but now that we've signed another recruiting class (and, you know, added our best recruit in a dozen years to the 2019 class), I figured I might take another stab at that starting lineup. Right to it:
QB: Cam Thomas
RB: Mike Epstein
TE: Louis Dorsey
WR1: Ricky Smalling
WR2: Carmoni Green
WR3: Trenard Davis
LT: Larry Boyd
LG: Alex Palczweski
C: Doug Kramer
RG: Kievan Myers
RT: Vederian Lowe
WDE: Isaiah Gay
DT: Jamal Milan/Calvin Avery/Kendrick Green
DT: Tymir Oliver/Verdis Brown/Kenyon Jackson
SDE: Bobby Roundtree
WLB: Jake Hansen
MLB: Dele Harding
SLB: Khalan Tolson
CB: Marquez Beason
Nickel CB: Tony Adams
FS: Stanley Green
SS: Bennett Williams
CB: Nate Hobbs
K: James McCourt
P: Blake Hayes
Will all of those players start? No. Some of those are locks (Bennett Williams at safety, Ricky Smalling at WR), but some are projections. And there could always be another Beason - a superstar freshman in the 2019 class who comes in and plays immediately.
Maybe the best way to do this is to list five positions where that might happen:
- QB. I said "Cam Thomas" but really, in 2019, it could be any of the 2018 quarterbacks or even a 2019 recruit. Thomas seems the most likely as he'll be the most experienced, but nothing is set in stone there.
- WR3. I think Ricky Smalling is a lock, and you know I'm going to pick Carmoni Green as my second guy. Third guy? It's probably on of the seniors in 2019, and my pick there is Trenard Davis. But this really could be a true freshman.
- RG. If the line is the same this year as it was last year - Boyd-Palcho-Kramer-Allegretti-Lowe - then the 2019 line will need to find a new right guard after Nick Allegretti graduates. My guess for now: Kievan Myers. But that could change by October 12, 2019 (and so could both of the tackle spots - nothing is set in stone yet).
- SLB. I have Dele Harding and Jake Hansen starting at linebacker this year, which means they'd be starting at linebacker in 2019 as well. But the third linebacker spot - which is only a half-starter because SLB rotates on and off with nickel CB - is wide open at this point. I'll go with Tolson for now.
- K. We'll have two scholarship kickers that season - James McCourt, who will be a junior, and Caleb Griffin, who will be a redshirt freshman. Either might win the job.
How do I feel about that depth chart now that it's mostly set for my October 12, 2019 "called shot"? Well...
- Quarterback still worries me. No proven recruit, no known starter.
- Tailback I feel perfectly fine. Epstein plus four or five other solid options.
- Wide receiver needs one more known. Smalling should be a superstar by then, though.
- Tight end needs some depth but I feel fine. Dorsey is the man.
- Offensive line I feel really good by then. One more year to get older and then in 2019 they're a legitimate line.
- Defensive line I'm supremely confident. And I didn't even mention guys like Jamal Woods or Owen Carney.
- Linebacker scares me. This is where we could really use an instant-impact juco or transfer (or a freshman superstar).
- Secondary I feel great. All Big Ten candidates everywhere.
- Specialists I feel pretty good. Hayes is a superstar punter and we'll have two solid (scholarship) options at kicker.
What did we learn by looking at this again? Well, this year's depth chart is pretty much next year's depth chart. Which means there's a lot of players with a lot of snaps on that 2019 team. But if it's going to be a our big leap-forward year, we could still use some impact guys in the 2019 class. Provide what Arrelious Benn and Miami Thomas provided for the 2007 team.
And Marquez Beason is a great start.