now that another disappointing season is in the books, let's take a look at the roster of returning players for next year
QB - Martinez, Vedral, McCaffrey, Bunch
between those 3 returning players the QB position should be decent for next year. I'm hoping that AM was battling some undisclosed injury all season to explain his inaccuracy and hesitancy, but then again it's not like the OL and WRs did him any favors, either. most likely we'll see incoming frosh Smothers as well but he will almost certainly redshirt. I expect AM to be the starter again but this time around I think that McCaffrey will push him a bit in the spring and fall. I fully expect McCaffrey to pass Vedral as the #2 QB soon.
RB - Mills, Rhamir Johnson, Ronald Tompkins, Brody Belt, Jaylin Bradley
I wouldnt be surprised if Bradley is no longer on the team come spring ball. He saw less touches than walkons Belt and Mazour. Tompkins has reportedly had a setback with his knee recovery so hopefully that was only a minor deal but at this point after 2 knee surgeries in 3 years you probably have to figure that anything you can get out of him before his career is done is a bonus. I dont want to count the kid out and I hope he fully recovers and is still the same player or better, but history for knee surgeries and RBs isnt good. Hopefully with a year in S&C Johnson can hold up a bit better. I fully expect Mo Washington to never return. I think we'll see next year's incoming frosh RBs get a shot at playing time but most likely the staff will try to use them in 4 games and save their redshirts. I think that Mills can be an every down back for sure and Johnson is a great change of pace back right now but it would be nice to see a bit more depth (and experience)
WR - Wandale Robinson, Spielman, Nance, McQuitty, Houston, Darien Chase, Kade Warner, Woodyard? (I thought I had read Woodyard might be able to use this year as a redshirt year but if so I'm guessing he may grad transfer elsewhere for more playing time)
so, this is an interesting position group. my issue heading into the season was that they had recruited all short slot WRs and nobody to play outside. Noa was a slot guy at Cal, Spielman has been in the slot his entire career, Robinson is a slot WR, etc. anyway it's also an extreme disappointment that not a single player stepped up at WR this season (maybe Hunt was that guy before he was dimissed). none of Nance, Houston, Chase could see the field? hell the staff moved true frosh TE Hickman to WR to get a big body out there for blocking. Anyway, this is a group where any newcomers could step in and immediately earn a starting job on the outside (maybe omaha's Betts? or maybe JUCO Manning?, let's hope). expect Robinson and Spielman to have their reps limited in the spring to get healed, which will hopefully allow an opportunity for some other WRs to get more practice time and maybe someone, anyone, can do something.
TE - Stoll, Allen, Rafdal, Vokalek, Hickman
It's a disappointment that the TEs werent used more, but I understand considering the limitations of the offense this year. Still, considering how shitty the WR production was outside of 2 players, it would have been nice to see the TEs pick up the slack. All 3 TEs return that were productive last year, and Hickman returns as well although I wonder if the staff will leave him at WR for spring ball? Also dont sleep on Rutgers transfer Vokalek, he's probably the most physically and athletically gifted of all of the TEs on the roster but he had to sit out last season. I think this is a deep and talented group.
OL - Jaimes, Farniok, Farniok, Wilson, Jurgens, Hixson, Raridon, Bando, Benhart, Piper, Sichterman, Matt Anderson, Micael Lynn, Jimmy Fritzsche, Brant Banks, Gaylord? (could apply for a 6th year and would likely get one, and I think there will be room on the roster for a 6th year senior OT)
here is where things get interesting, and while the OL was a major, major source of NU's offensive struggles this past season, the list above looks good on paper. The interesting thing to watch in spring and more likely fall camp is to see how much the youngsters push the veterans. Right now all 5 starting OL return but if I were a betting man I'd bet the starting lineup in the first game will be significantly different. I could easily see Benhart or Gaylord (if he recovers and gets back to game speed soon enough) become the starter at RT allowing Farniok to move inside to OG. I also think that between Bando and Piper that Hixson's days are numbered as a starting OG. Jurgens improved by the end of the season and should only continue to get better. There is a lot of young talent in this group and hopefully some of them like Banks, W Farniok, can push for backup jobs. Considering how many frosh and soph there are in this group a lot can happen in the weight room and the training table in the offseason we may see one of these kids work himself into the two deep or we could see one or more of them eat themselves out of a scholarship.
DL - Keem Green, Mosai Newsome, Chris Walker, Wildeman, Damion Daniels, Stille, Deontre Thomas, Casey Rogers, Ty Robinson
DL was probably the deepest group on the team this past season and considering NU is graduating all 3 starters there is bound to be somewhat of a dropoff. However, there is quite a bit of experience returning, the difference will be how far along the younger players have come to at least be decent enough backups to spell the starters. That was one of the big reasons the DL performed well at times last season and that was because they could sub in Stille/Thomas/Daniels and not really have much of a dropoff if any. Right now it looks like we'll see Damion Daniels and Ty Robinson manning the NT spot although I think we'll see Green slide there on occasion as well. Your most likely starters at DE are Stille and Thomas who both have plenty of experience. The story here will be which of the younger players earns the backup jobs between Newsom, Wildeman, Rogers, Walker
ILB - Honas, Miller, Nick Heinrich, Garret Snodgrass, Jackson Hannah, Luke Reimer
so, it was quite obvious in several games this season that our ILBs lack altheticism and speed and coverage skills in general. Honas I thought improved steadily throughout the season, and same for Miller. It sounds like Hrinrich and Hannah were banged up. Reimer was a great surprise as a walkon. If the commit sticks, there will be at least one JUCO being thrown into the mix as well, which is a very good thing here. Anyway, right now Honas and Miller are at the front of the line to be your starters, and considering all the rest of the group will be redshirt frosh, I expect it to stay that way. But, I'm hoping that one or two of the young guys will stand out as a backup to those top two, or maybe even develop or be used as a third down ILB. keep an eye on walkon Reimer, as he seemed to have the best instincts of all of them, he probably just needs time in S&C. but yeah, right now on paper this group scares me a little bit considering how abused our ILBs were in pass coverage and in run fits most of the season
OLB - Domann, Nelson, Tannor, David Alston, Jamin Graham
Nelson improved by the end of the season and if he doesnt grow into a DE I could see him being a better version of Gifford already in his second year. We dont have another big body OLB right now, though. If he sticks there is a very interesting JUCO OLB prospect that may join the group as well. Domann is one of our better LBs if not the best, he'll probably be a starter next year unless he pisses off the staff by skipping some of fall camp again. Tannor I thought was improved but it seems like he needs to put on some weight. there's also a chance that some of the DBs from last year could grow into an OLB, like Myles Farmer, at some point. I'm not sure Alston saw the field as a redshirt frosh and Graham redshirted with an injury, I believe. Need more depth and more talent here, and it's obvious to everyone they need a better pass rush from the OLB. Maybe Nelson can become that.
S - Deontai Williams, Dismuke, Pola-Gates, Farmer, Sullivan, Stalbird
I think the loss of Williams in the first game of the season really messed up the secondary, but I think they patched things together pretty well. Williams should be back and healthy and he and Dismuke should make for a great S pair. walkons Sullivan and Stalbird provide depth and great special teams play. Taylor-Brit can always play S as well if needed as can Bootle. Hopefully Pola-Gates recovers from his injury quickly to get into the mix as a backup safety because there's no experienced depth behind the projected starters
CB - Bootle, Taylor-Brit, Clark, Newsome, Tony Butler, Javin Wright
pretty decent returning group here with Bootle and Cam having plenty of starting experience. Clark got a lot of time as a backup CB this year and should improve as well. Newsome played all season on special teams and will probably battle for the other backup CB spot. Butler has been on a milk carton his entire career here and Wright was a frosh who I think got dinged up and redshirted. pretty solid group here as long as most of them stay healthy.
special special teams
not even sure I want to go into this. I am hopeful that Damion Jackson (former navy seal just in case you didnt catch that the first 27,000 times it's been mentioned the past 3-4 years, continues to learn to be a long snapper and can win the job.
we need a new punter, maybe we can use one of the 17 kickers we used this past season? ah fuck it, let Frost find his punter from the rugby club team.