Everyone wants to be the star.
That’s why everyone wants to be the starter. However, most positions only have one or two guys who can start, so opportunities to start can be few and far between. The good thing though is that there are still opportunities to make an impact on the field.
For years, the UW staff has been deliberate in setting up their rotations and carving out roles for the most out of the roster. Whether its been sub package roles for DBs, a passing down RB gig, a designated rusher position for OLBs, or even gunners on special teams for freak athletes, guys on the bench find ways to make an impact. Heck, Kyler Gordon was an All-Conference special teamer while honing his DB skills. There are ways for everyone to make an impact.
For the sake of this exercise, I’m going to make quite a few assumptions as far as who is a “starter” and what positions are starters for us. On offense, I’m going to say that our starting line up is base 12 personnel (2 WRs, 2 TEs, 1 RB), but since we also know that we play a lot of 3 WR sets, I’m going to count the 3rd WR as a starter. Same goes for the 2nd RB. As for the assumed starters, I’m going to go with Morris (QB), McGrew/Newton (RBs), Bynum/Odunze/McMillan (WRs), Otton/Culp (TEs), and the returning OL of Kirkland/Ale/Wattenberg/Bainnivalu/Curne.
On defense, I’m going to assume that we’re rolling with a 2-4-5 base personnel look, but since it sounds like Bob Gregory is fond of his 3 DL fronts, I’m also going to count the 3rd DL in the rotation as a starter. For the assumed starters I’m going with Tuli/Taki/Tuitele (DL), Bowman/McDonald (OLBs), Eddie/Sirmon (ILBs), McDuffie/Gordon/Bookie (CB/Nickel), and Hampton/Irvin (Safeties). The OLB spot opposite of Bowman and the safety spots are a shot in the dark right now, but the guys I listed have been taking more consistent snaps during camp as of late, so I went with them.
Let’s take a look at the candidates:
Sav’ell Smalls, OLB
Smalls is the pick that kind of bends the rules and plays on the assumptions. We all know that Smalls is going to get a lot of playing time, and he could even end up winning the starting job opposite of Bowman out of camp. He’s arguably our most talented player on defense, and he’s already got his foot in the door having earned snaps last season as a true freshman. His only limiting factor would be how big of an impact can he actually make.
If Smalls finds himself as a non-starting member of the OLB rotation, he should be able to carve out a pass rush role for himself. Joe Tryon held this role, and so has Bowman. 5 or 6 sacks over the course of the season is pretty realistic and could put him in the top 3 on the team in most years, so I’d call that a pretty impactful non-starter.
Jack Westover, TE/H-Back/FB
Westover is the pick for those of us who recognize that an impact doesn’t only mean stats. As our Swiss army knife on offense, Westover has played extensively at FB and H-back, but he’s also transitioned into more of a TE role at times and picked up a more active role in Donovan’s offense with a few carries and targets.
The overall snap count situation isn’t favorable this year with Devin Culp, Mark Redman, and Quentin Moore joining Cade Otton in a crowded and talented TE room, and Caden Jumper has joined the TE room as more of a H-back/FB in the mold of Westover himself. Fortunately for Westover, most of these guys haven’t proven to be as well integrated into the offense as Westover, and it’s not often that a former walk-on FB finds himself getting critical short yardage carries. Clearly he’s earned the staff’s trust.
If Westover can maintain his role as a do-everything blocker in the backfield while adding a few more touches to his stat line, then he might find himself on the field a lot more than most non-starters.
Kamren Fabiculanan is a guy who I can’t wait to see make a name for himself on the field. Partially because he’s a really talented DB who has earned praise from the staff, and partially because I want to hear announcers try to get his name right. In all seriousness, I think Fabiculanan could be the next DB in line to follow Molden & Gordon’s footsteps as starting DBs who first cut their teeth in the dime package.
From the reports out of camp, it sounds like Fabiculanan was pushing Bookie for the starting Nickel job, so in the event that he doesn’t win the job, his skills as a slot corner could be well utilized in the other slot when facing 4 WR sets. Fabiculanan is also one of the lankiest slot DBs that we’ve ever had, so its not hard to imagine the staff taking a long look at trying him on the perimeter and sliding Gordon back inside in dime situations if we want to try our hand at travelling man coverage.
The possible mixing and matching in the defensive backfield should excite Coach Harris and Coach Brown, and there’s the potential for significant snaps as the presumptive starting dime DB.
Outside of the aforementioned 3, there are a bunch of talented players on the roster who could find themselves playing a major role. Giles Jackson, Ja’lynn Polk, Taj Davis, and Sawyer Racanelli could all find themselves in the WR3 spot if McMillan misses any time. However, Jackson might be able to make the biggest impact out of the group if he can lockdown one of the returner gigs on special teams. He’s already proven himself to be an explosive option during his time at Michigan, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he found himself in a position to make an impact.
Cam Davis is another good option as he started to find his footing and more snaps as last season went on. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up as the starter towards the end of the season because of how talented and versatile he is. The biggest hurdle for him will be fighting his way through a crowded depth chart and securing enough snaps to make a difference. A running back committee for another year is less than desirable for the 3rd year back.
Coach B’s Pick: Sav’ell Smalls, OLB
Which non-starter will make the biggest impact?
This poll is closed