One quick disclaimer. I think it is rare for a position of need this year to be realistically addressed by players that commit in a given class. It takes time. You usually need to be a year ahead. In other words, we should really be looking at the juniors that are leaving, not the seniors. It usually takes at least a year to develop. Still, these are the thinnest positions and I still thought this was a fun exercise.
It's the depth that's a killer. And honestly, some thing have to happen in order for this to work. I think the coaching staff is really working on offers from some highly rated JUCO offensive linemen, but it's not an absolute necessity. I think there's pretty good talent there, just not a lot of depth. There are only 10 returning scholarship players and 13 total returning offensive linemen, so there's obviously not a ton of depth. I do think that the quality of players is there, there's jut not a lot of them. And this isn't a case of blaming Tuberville for not recruiting on volume. He had 3 offensive line commits in the 2012 class, 4 in the 2011 class, and 3 in the 2010 class (again, this was sorta Leach and sorta Tuberville). That's 10 right there.
I almost never have an expectation that offensive linemen will play as true freshmen because that's so tough. It's a whole new world. Of the guys, I think that Baylen Brown is probably the most ready and he can play inside at guard sooner rather than later, is a bit more compact (6-4/295) than Porter (6-6/285) and Hayes (6-6/260).
Porter and Hayes are long and lean and really terrific looking tackle prospects, although Porter has also played inside at guard and he definitely has the size to contribute right now at 285.
Again, I don't think there is necessarily a lack of numbers, but rather the best players played last year. And of those best players, 4 of them happened to be seniors. Cody Davis, D.J. Johnson, Eugene Neboh and Cornelius Douglas. This group saw a ton of snaps and so this is the rub. We all saw that Neboh had issues, but what this means is that his backups weren't close to pushing him out of the way. Despite what you may think about the prior coaching staff, I think they still put the best players on the field. This obviously has me worried for this next year.
I think the only players that most likely play this year would be JUCO guys. The players who are committed who are projected to be in the secondary, Caleb Woodward and Justis Nelson will most likely redshirt. New commit Jalen Barnes has said that he de-committed from Iowa St. because he was going to be reshirted. I think the staff can safely say that the safety spot is completely up for grabs and he'll have every opportunity to compete, but I still think these spots will go to Tre' Porter and I suppose that La'Darius Newbold was maybe being projected at safety, although he was originally a cornerback coming out of high school. A very good cornerback.
Other than that, I'm not really sure who plays the safety spot. And I really don't know if Austin Stewart is going to be back due to attrition (this is a nice way of saying this). I do think that it is rare that a JUCO player makes a significant difference. Out of a handful of JUCO players last year, Bruce Jones, Sadale Foster and Javon Bell were really the only players that looked to make a significant impact. It is still a game of adjustment on some level and some time that takes at least a year. Off the top of my head, Jones starts at the end of the year and plays well. Falemi plays a bit. Fortenberry redshirts. Stewart sits out just about all year. Payne plays only special teams. Smith is okay, but we expected more. Foster was very solid, Bell was very good when he played. With that being said, this is a place of need and I'm a bit surprised that more JUCO safeties aren't looking at the depth chart here for an opportunity. The likely scenario is that it will be a player that is already on the roster. There are 13 secondary players on the roster if you include Terrance Bullitt. There are plenty of bodies, just have to figure out where the pieces will fit.
I think that the receiver spot is going to be filled in a non-traditional way. RB/IR Tyler Middleton will get time at rceiver and I think that's a fantastic idea. Both Middleton and RB Sadale Foster should get opportunities at the inside receiver spot and will replace Tyson Williams, Austin Zouzalik and Alex Torres. I did go back and look for some film on Middleton and there are some pretty good things here.
Middleton is a long-stride runner and at some point, I was thinking why aren't these players tackling Middleton, but then you realize that he's that much faster than anyone on the field. Significantly faster. The long-strides always fool me on a player with speed, but he's slipping through the line and hardly getting hit. The fact that it's happening over and over isn't a coincidence. At Middleton's height, the coaching staff is going to have some options as to where he can play, but he could play at running back, inside receiver or outside receiver. Just get him on the field.
On the outside, Javon Bell should return healthy, but someone is going to have a great opportunity. This is why Neal Brown worked so hard to get Marcus Kennard to redshirt one of the past two years. Big opportunities here. It wouldn't surprise me to see Derreck Edwards step up, but Dylan Cantrell just might get an opportunity. Former OC Brown wanted Cantrell at inside receiver and maybe he doesn't have the Big 12 speed to do this and they get him to add a few pounds where he becomes an inside receiver with excellent size and hands like velcro. Effing velcro.