One of the more interesting roster management questions facing any coach in college football is the decision of whether to redshirt a player or not. The advantages of using a redshirt season are generally self-evident – giving young players an additional year to develop physically, to learn the playbook, to gain reps in practice and to adapt to the time demands of college life are all positives. When the redshirt rules were first adopted, Don James took full advantage to help build better, more experienced depth. While a few exceptional players saw action as true freshmen under DJ, the general rule was that freshmen redshirted.
Since then, we’ve seen the thinking about redshirting evolve; while it’s still advantageous in most circumstances to redshirt a player, it is no longer as cut and dried to do so, for multiple reasons:
- Rosters are smaller: With a limit of 85 scholarships instead of 95 (as it was for most of DJ’s career, and unlimited prior to that), there’s less depth and more need for kids to play right away;
- NFL draft rules: Since the early ‘90’s we’ve seen a marked increase in underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft as their draft rules have been challenged, and so redshirting very talented players may mean one less season they can help your program if they leave early for the draft;
- Football camps & training: More than ever, high school aged football players are training year-round and attending camps to focus on developing their football skills and arriving at college more prepared than previous generations;
Still, you can get a sense for the general health of a football program by looking at how many incoming players redshirt and how many are pressed into action right away; while it’s unlikely you’ll ever see Sark redshirt an entire incoming class, we are seeing a trend of fewer being forced into action early.
With Sark releasing his first official depth chart today, as well as announcing five true frosh that are certain to play, let’s take a look at the 2012 class and assess which may see action this year:
QB: Cyler Miles & Jeff Lindquist – Sark would love to redshirt both Miles & Lindquist to put another year of separation between them and Keith Price, and so long as Price stays healthy enough to play all season, they will redshirt. If Price goes down however, things get interesting. Right now Sark lists the backup spot as Derrick Brown OR Miles, which suggests they are even. I’d expect Brown would be the first one off the bench and Sark would try to keep Miles on the sidelines, but if Brown went down and a game was on the line, or if Brown really struggled and a game was on the line, Miles would play. Lindquist will redshirt unless disaster strikes.
RB: Erich Wilson & Ryan McDaniel – While everyone expects Jesse Callier & Bishop Sankey to get the majority of carries this year, RB is a spot where attrition can happen in a hurry. Already we’ve seen hard-luck case Deontae Cooper suffer his 3rd ACL tear in an off-season camp. Wilson has impressed the coaches this fall, but the official depth chart shows walk-on Willis Wilson & RS-Fr Dezden Petty ahead of him, so it looks like he’ll probably redshirt unless injuries hit this position hard. McDaniel is recovering from a knee injury and will redshirt this year; he’s currently listed as a RB, but he had very impressive film as a LB and could switch if the need arises.
FB: Psalm Wooching – Wooching is a physical specimen with a lot of potential, but he appears headed for a redshirt year to continue developing as Sr. Jonathon Amosa is the starter and walk-on Cole Sager listed as his backup, with touted DL Pio Vatuvei also getting looks here for jumbo packages. Sark runs enough personnel packages that don’t include a FB that even if Amosa were to get hurt, I’d expect Wooching to still redshirt and for Sark to get creative with H-backs and multiple TE sets (or using TE’s as the FB).
WR: Jaydon Mickens, Kendyl Taylor, Dwayne Washington & Marvin Hall (greyshirt from 2011) – Injuries have opened the door here with Kevin Smith recovering from an ACL tear prior to the Alamo Bowl and James Johnson going down for several weeks with a dislocated wrist, and Mickens & Taylor have taken full advantage as both are listed as starters for Week 1. Mickens has wowed camp observers with his play-making ability, and Taylor hasn’t been far behind. Even if Johnson & Smith were fully healthy, it’s almost certain Mickens would have earned playing time, and probably Taylor too. While it’s a bit disappointing that guys like DiAndre Campbell, Jamaal Jones & Josh Perkins have been bypassed, hopefully it just means that Mickens & Taylor are really that good already. Hall greyshirted 2011 to get his grades in order, but will probably get another year to develop as a redshirt. Washington has yet to be cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse and is certain to redshirt at this point if he does.
OL: Shane Brostek, Nathan Dean, Jake Eldrenkamp, Cory Fuavai (English) & Taylor Hindy – Of all the positions on a football team, OL are the ones you’d most want to redshirt due to the physical demands of the position; you’d simply rather have a year of the kid at age 22 than age 18. Brostek appears to be the furthest along of this group as he’s the only one listed in the 3-deeps, but I’d guess that Sark will try to keep him on the sidelines if he can. I’d guess that James Atoe, Mike Criste and Dexter Charles will be the first 3 guys off the bench and that Brostek only sees the field if injuries mount up fast. The rest are almost certain to redshirt unless disaster strikes this group.
DL: Pio Vatuvei, Damion Turpin & Josh Banks (JC transfer) – Vatuvei was a late flip from USC, and he’s living up to his lofty billing so far. He’s listed in the 2-deeps behind Talia Crichton, and Sark has already said he’s going to play. He has the size and athleticism to be an ideal 3-4 DE but also see time all along the defensive front depending on down, distance and the opponent. I expect him to see a lot of playing time. Banks is a JC transfer with 3 years to play 2, and while he has a couple of years of experience and impressive film from his time at San Joaquin Delta, it would appear currently that he’ll use that redshirt year as he’s not listed in the 2-deeps. Turpin seems certain to redshirt. Note that DE Kalei Auelua is greyshirting (delaying enrollment) as he rehabs a knee injury from last year.
LB: Blake Rodgers & Cory Littleton – While the various LB positions have been in serious flux due to the new schemes implemented by DC Justin Wilcox and LB coach Peter Sirmon, the move of a number of Safeties to the position, attrition, and injury, both Rodgers and Littleton appear certain to redshirt. Rodgers projects as an ILB while Littleton appears headed for the RUSH position occupied currently by Josh Shirley.
CB: Brandon Beaver, Cleveland Wallace & Darien Washington – With one spot locked up by Sr. Desmond Trufant and the other a battle between walk-on transfer (by way of Central Washington University) Tre Watson & Gregory Ducre, with depth provided by RS-Fr Marcus Peters, there doesn’t currently appear to be playing time available. But Peters has had back issues, and another injury or two could force new DB coach Keith Heyward to play one of his true frosh; if that happens, Beaver probably has a slight edge on Wallace. If nothing else, Beaver appears a little more physically ready for Pac-12 play. Washington is almost certain to redshirt.
S: Shaquille Thompson – The most heralded Husky recruit since Napoleon Kaufman, most figured it was not a matter of "if" he would end up starting this season but more a matter of "when"; as it turns out, "when" could very well be "now", as the coaches have carved out a customized role for him on the depth chart. While he’s labeled a "Nickleback", his responsibilities appear to be more LB than S as the coaches have had him working close to the line of scrimmage. I expect to see him used all over the field as an x-factor, kind of like how LSU used the "Honey Badger" (but without the off-the-field drama). Given Shaq’s size, it may just be a matter of time before he sees his position officially changed to LB.
ATH: Antavius Sims (JC transfer, greyshirt) – Sims delayed entry as he got his grades in order, but the coaching staff is still trying to figure out how to best utilize him. He played QB at Ventura College, and has been tried at RB and WR so far after first being listed as a CB. He might see time on special teams given his outstanding athleticism, but it seems probable he’ll redshirt this year as the staff figures out his best position.
K/P: Travis Coons (JC transfer) & Korey Durkee – With the graduation of Erik Folk, Kiel Rasp & Will Mahan, the placekicker and punter jobs were wide open; Coons has seized hold of the PK spot, and Durkee has won the P spot, which was the expectation when they were signed.
Sark has already stated that 5 of his true frosh will play: Mickens, Taylor, Vatuvei, Thompson & Durkee. We also know Coons is the kicker, so that's 6 of the 2012 class that we know won't redshirt. Beyond that, guys like Miles, Wilson, Brostek, Banks & Beaver have an outside shot at seeing action, but will likely redshirt if possible. The rest are almost certain to redshirt except in case of emergency.
I think we can conclude that the program continues to build depth under Sark and is in pretty good shape, but there's probably a little more room to go. Sark is never going to redshirt entire classes, but hopefully he can get to the point where only 3-4 outstanding prospects are likely to play. That may come as soon as 2013...
EDIT: As astutely noted in the comments, Sims doesn't have a redshirt year available to him. Since he already had 2 years at a JC, his eligibility clock was already ticking, and the time off he spent getting his grades in order to get admitted to the UW effectively count as his redshirt year.