Initial Depth Chart for Montana Released
Behold, UW's depth chart for Montana: pic.twitter.com/AqfOQnVUi5— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) August 30, 2021
There are always questions about how accurate the depth chart release is as far as how well it correlates to playing time But it was pretty close last year so we'll treat it as pretty close this year. Let’s run through it from most to least surprising.
Obviously the outside duo of Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon is no surprise. That has been etched in stone since the spring and their backups of Covington and Powell has been consistent throughout all Fall camp. But just about everything else is notable. Brendan Radley-Hiles is the starter as expected at the nickel corner spot but his backup is listed as safety Dominique Hampton. The expected backup nickel was Kamren Fabiculanan but he is listed as a starter at safety. (Technically those roles could be reversed but that seems less likely given their respective skill sets).
And while Julius Irvin starting at safety was the consensus by the end of fall camp, his expected running mate Cam Williams is instead listed as his backup.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Fabiculanan rotating between safety and a nickel corner spot in dime packages which means the 2-deep between those 3 positions is a bit difficult to pin down. Regardless, it’s clear that we’ll see more of Fabiculanan than probably the average observer expected last week. Hopefully we get to pull our starters late against Montana to get a true sense of who replaces whom.
It definitely seemed like Cooper McDonald had taken a slight edge to start opposite Ryan Bowman at outside linebacker with ZTF out due to injury and that has been confirmed with the depth chart. All 3 of Sav’ell Smalls, Bralen Trice, and Jeremiah Martin are listed as backups at that spot however and we can still expect that all 3 will rotate in quite a bit at least early on until things settle.
There are no surprises at the inside linebacker spot except maybe Carson Bruener listed as co-backup along with Daniel Heimuli. With Heimuli still potentially injured though this may be a sign that the spot is Heimuli’s as soon as he’s healthy again but that Bruener will rotate in until that point.
As of 10 days ago this is the starting offensive line we all expected. But up until a little before then MJ Ale seemed entrenched at left guard even if he was viewed as the most vulnerable. Julius Buelow seemingly had a dominant end to fall camp and so earned the start over him at that position. Given that we know what the floor was from Ale last season it’s probably a good sign that the coaching staff clearly feels Buelow did enough to prove that he’s going to be an upgrade. The second string are also all what we expected as none of the highly talented 2nd year players (who are still technically true freshmen because of the eligibility mulligan) were able to crack the 2-deep.
The surprise of Ja’Lynn Polk being listed is almost certainly about injury rather than anything else. Jalen McMillan was the clear #3 starter with the 1’s up until he needed surgery for a hand injury. His exact timeline for return is unknown but this depth chart tells me that he’s not questionable for this upcoming week and it will be a little while before he can play.
After Taj Davis had a starring role in the scrimmage 2 Saturdays ago it seemed possible that he might have caught and surpassed Polk but that doesn’t quite appear to be the case. I would still expect to see Davis getting a reasonable number of snaps though still at least until McMillan is back on the field and ready to go. Otherwise, the 7 players listed are clearly the top-7 on the depth chart with only true freshman Jabez Tinae absent.
I don’t think this is overly surprising as it seemed pretty clear from reports out of fall camp that Richard Newton and Cameron Davis took the most snaps with the 1’s while Kamari Pleasant and Sean McGrew were the next men up. I’m expecting to see a pretty even split of carries between Newton and Davis early on until/unless it becomes clear come gametime that one of them is vastly outperforming the other. Sean McGrew at the very least provides great depth as a change of pace back and Kamari Pleasant as the most trusted pass protector I’m sure will see plenty of use on 3rd downs in passing situations.
Cade Otton will be one of the best players in the conference but opposite him it seemed that Jack Westover was also fairly entrenched. Westover has shown that he has potential as a receiver but there’s no question that he is viewed as more of a blocking tight end and Culp more as a receiving tight end. The co-starter status is likely a nod to the fact that their usage will likely depend more on what John Donovan wants on a given play. It will be interesting on the other side to see if Mark Redman or Quentin Moore ends up getting more playing time if there ever is a time that Otton leaves the field. Outside of blowouts though that basically never happened last year and probably won’t again this year.
The intrigue here was just around the returner spots but ultimately I think all of them are about as expected. Giles Jackson was a very good kick returner at Michigan and will be one of the primary guys out there. In past years Sean McGrew has been the running back in that spot but it looks like Cameron Davis will do it this year instead. Jalen McMillan also would’ve been in contention for that position but his hand injury makes that a moot point until he returns.
Trent McDuffie was electric in the very few opportunities he got to return punts last year and should be able to do a decent Dante Pettis impression this season. None of the kicking or snapping spots is any different than expected.
This is exactly the release I was expecting with O’Brien and Huard listed as ORs at the #2 spot. O’Brien suffered an injury late in camp and the exact severity is unknown. If he still isn’t healthy then Huard will take any emergency snaps as needed until he comes back. However, I feel sure the staff would like to preserve Huard’s redshirt if possible and so if O’Brien is healthy and they need someone to make a spot start or come in for a quarter if Morris gets dinged up then I think O’Brien will be the guy. If God forbid Morris were certain to moss more than 4 games then it would become who gives the team the best chance to win right now and that may or may not still be O'Brien.
The 4 players in the 2-deep are exactly the ones we expected and exactly in the same order. Chalk.