Head Coach Bobby Petrino has released the first depth chart for UofL’s upcoming 2018 season.
There are not too many surprises, but there are a few.
Quarterback and Running Back:
Jawon Pass and Trey Smith are your starters in the backfield. Smith has consistently been mentioned as the number 1 RB by both Coach Petrino and Running Backs Coach Kolby Smith.
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Malik Cunningham is listed as the backup QB as expected. With his athleticism, don’t be surprised if he gets maybe a special package.
Dae Williams is listed as the number 2 RB, followed by Colin Wilson, Malik Staples, Javian Hawkins, and Hassan Hall. It wouldn’t be a shocker to see Williams and Wilson get quite a few carries. Petrino has utilized three RBs in the past with good success.
Wide Receiver and Tight End:
Your receivers and tight ends are what we have seen in spring and in the fall camp. At WR it’s Dez Fitzpatrick, Seth Dawkins, and Jaylen Smith.
However, behind them are some interesting players. Emonee Spence is backing up Dez with impressive and speedy freshman Tutu Atwell behind him. Hometown player Keion Wakefield is backing up Jaylen with freshman speedy freshman Marcus Riley behind him. Riley was really impressive during the open practice as was Wakefield. Devante Peete is backing up Seth with redshirt freshman Justin Marshall behind him. Peete was expected to be a huge weapon for UofL last year before an injury in camp sidelined him for the season. At 6’6 he is a tall, athletic target for Jawon. Marshall is another big, athletic WR. Don’t be surprised to see many, if not all, of these WRs get playing time. This is UofL’s deepest position.
No surprise in the tight end department as Kemari Averett and Micky Crum will be anchoring that position. Averett will be the starter. Averett is a giant with excellent pass catching ability. Crum has shown flashes of his talent both as a blocker and playmaker. Jordan Davis will likely contribute as well; especially in 3 TE goal line sets and, possibly, as a full back as he did last season.
The five starters we saw have heard about during fall camp will be the starters against Alabama. Linwood Foy starts at LT, Kenny Thomas at LG, Cole Bentley at C, Lukayus McNeil at RG, and the mountain of a man Mekhi Becton at RT.
The immediate back ups at each position are where some surprises lay. Backing up Foy at LT is Tyler Haycraft. That is one I don’t think many people saw coming. Caleb Chandler, who many thought would either be starting or backing up one of the tackle spots, is instead backing up Thomas at LG. No surprise at C with Nate Scheler backing up Bentley. RG has Ronald Rudd backing up McNeil. He’s a guy many thought would be at tackle. The big surprise is true freshman Adonis Boone is backing up Becton. Boone’s tape was impressive as a recruit. He loved throwing defenders to the ground whether it was a pass or run.
PK and P are of course the incumbents Blanton Creque and Mason King. LS is Mitch Hall.
Your kick and punt returners have seen the biggest change as Rodjay Burns and Cornelius Sturgill are your kick returners and Rodjay Burns your punt returner with Keion Wakefield backing him up. Burns has big shoes to fill as Alexander was, before injury forced him out of the job last year, a great PR. UofL is definitely looking for more production out of the kick return game. They have plenty of speed there now with Burns and Sturgill.
Tabarius Peterson and Jon Greenard are your starting DEs. There’s no real surprise there as Peterson has been impressive in spring and fall camps. Greenard has been making plays his entire career and big things are expected from him this season. Amonte Caban, a converted LB, and Gary McCrae will back up Peterson. True freshman Jarrett Jackson, who impressed me personally at the spring game with his quickness, power, and athleticism, is the immediate back up to Greenard. Malik Clark rounds out the backups at DE.
The surprise comes at the starting interior line spots. Mike Boykin is starting at DT and GG Robinson has earned the spot starting NT. There had been some belief among the media that JUCO Jared Goldwire would start with Boykin. Goldwire is backing up Boykin while Henry Famuwera and true freshman Dejmi Dumervil-Jean back up Robinson at NT. Dumervil-Jean is the gigantic nephew of Cardinal legend Elvis Dumervil. He’s massive and will likely be used to stop the run in spots.
It’s likely you will see all of these guys get playing time as UofL will likely try to rotate them to keep bodies fresh and to get each player in situations to succeed.
UofL, at least on the depth chart, is returning to a more traditional 4-3 set. Of course, DC Brian Van Gorder likes to run multiple sets. With this in mind, your starting LBs are Dorian Etheridge at MLB, CJ Avery, a converted S, at WLB, and a surprise in Nick Okeke at SLB.
Etheridge even as a true sophomore is the leader of the linebacking corps. He had a stellar freshman campaign and is expected to have an even bigger impact as a sophomore. Avery has the speed and size to cover slot receivers or TEs while being able to bring down big RBs or scat backs. He gives the linebacking corps versatility. Okeke is a player I don’t think many expected to be starting. However at 6’3 242, Okeke has excellent size and with it strength.
Okeke is also Etheridge’s primary back up at MLB with true freshman Robert Hicks just behind. Don’t be shocked to see Hicks get some playing time. He’s physically ready to compete. PJ Blue, another converted S, will back up Avery at WLB. He’s an athletically gifted player who will definitely be rotated in to play some snaps. Boosie Whitlow, a transfer, is backing up Okeke at SLB. Whitlow is a versatile player, but is known for his pass rushing skills. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get time at both LB and DE.
Not too much unexpected in the secondary as, though there were quite a few well established starters like Jaire and Chucky Williams lost, there was still quite a bit of experience. At one CB spot we have PJ Mbanasor, a transfer from Oklahoma. He has looked impressive both in spring and in the public open practice. He is definitely UofL’s number 1 CB. At the other CB, we have the dreaded “OR.” Rodjay Burns OR Cornelius Sturgill, OR Russ Yeast. My best guess is Burns will be opposite Mbanasor on the first defensive snap Saturday. However, you will see Sturgill and Yeast get time on the field.
Backing up Mbanasor is a surprise as true freshman Chandler Jones gets that spot. Jones is a super talented corner. He has great closing speed, great ability to stay with WRs, and has excellent ability to play the ball in the air even against bigger WRs. Marlon Character, a JUCO, is also backing up Mbanasor. His skill and talent will likely see him getting significant playing time somewhere on the field during the game.
At S, there really isn’t much of a surprise. Dee Smith, a senior and captain, will start at SS while Khane Pass will man the FS position. I asked Smith at Media Day who would be starting next to him against Bama and he said Khane Pass. Pass played some LB last year so I’d expect him to be in the box against the Crimson Tide quite a bit. Smith has shown ability throughout his career to be a ball hawk. Hopefully, he will pick off whichever QB Saban starts Saturday.
London Iakopo will back up Dee while Tresean Smith will back up Pass. Iakopo is a hard-hitting S who also played some LB in his time here. Tresean was impressive in his limited time playing last year. He showed a nose for the ball breaking up 1 pass and collecting 2 interceptions. He is returning from an injury he suffered in the bowl game loss to Mississippi State.