This afternoon, Louisville released its first two-deep depth chart of the season, giving us a look at the starters for Monday night’s primetime game against Notre Dame.
Surprises: Hawkins, Kinnaird Named Starters
Looking at the depth chart, the two biggest surprises will be redshirt freshman Javian Hawkins listed as the RB1, and Dayna Kinnaird starting at defensive end for Louisville.
Entering fall camp, it was assumed that sophomore Hassan Hall would be the leading candidate to start at running back. Not only did Hall lead the position in rushing yards last season, but he is also entering 2019 as one of Louisville’s most dynamic playmakers on offense and special teams, next to Tutu Atwell.
But Hawkins was projected as the RB2 throughout most of the offseason, and head coach Scott Satterfield has been effusive in his praise of the redshirt freshman. To me, if Hawkins is the RB1, that means Satterfield plans to use him as a runner and receiver. While he could also do the same for Hall, Hawkins is perhaps the more versatile back of the two.
However, it doesn’t mean Hassan Hall won’t get chances in this offense, far from it. The offense will run the ball a lot as long as Scott Satterfield is there, and in our running backs preview two weeks ago, we highlighted that it wasn’t uncommon for RB2s in his system to get a decent amount of touches. Satterfield was able to get 1,000 yard rushers in all five seasons as Appalachian State’s head coach with running backs that had similar size to Hawkins and Hall, so expect the two to be key contributors throughout the season (no matter who among them actually starts).
Former walk-on Dayna Kinnaird emerging as a starter is also a fair surprise, given that the defensive line was expected to have Amonte Caban, G.G. Robinson, and Tabarius Peterson as starters. Satterfield has been relentless in his message for wanting players that give a full effort consistently every day in practice, and he appears to have awarded the Jeffersonville native with not only a scholarship, but also a starting spot at defensive end.
But much like the situation at running back, defensive end will likely see a ton of rotation throughout the year. There isn’t a ton of depth or a clear-cut dominator at the position yet, so it could be a situation where defensive coordinator Bryan Brown plays as many guys as possible to try and get a hot hand.
Evaluating the Offensive Line Depth Chart
Heading into August, we knew that the offensive line would at least return Mekhi Becton and Caleb Chandler in their lineup. The only question, though, would be who Louisville would start at right tackle, and who Louisville would start at center and right guard with graduate transfer T.J. McCoy, junior Cole Bentley, and redshirt junior Robbie Bell.
The depth chart shows that, from left to right tackle, the lineup will be Becton, Chandler, McCoy, Bell, and former walk-on Tyler Haycraft. For what Louisville is trying to accomplish in the running game, this is possibly the best lineup that they can set up. Louisville’s rushing numbers improved dramatically with Caleb Chandler in the lineup, and he and Becton should form a solid group.
Cole Bentley will be Louisville’s best reserve and its most experienced, able to be plugged in right away at center or right guard if McCoy or Bell get injured. But Louisville will need its offensive line to be as healthy as possible, as there are questions about its depth past the starting lineup in the 2019 season.
To no one’s surprise, Jawon Pass was listed as the starting quarterback, and starting wide receivers are Seth Dawkins, Dez Fitzpatrick, and Tutu Atwell. Louisville should feel comfortable about its depth at wide receiver. I do feel that the reserve receivers to watch graduate transfer Thomas Jackson, and redshirt sophomore Justin Marshall. I’m very interested to see what those two can do with a chance to have real game reps this season.
With Jordan Davis suspended for the first two games, graduate transfer Ean Pfeifer is named the starter at tight end. I’m not sure how much of a role Pfeifer will have in the passing game, but Louisville will likely count on him and backup Tobias Little as extra blockers for the running game.
Other than Dayna Kinnaird starting at defensive end, there aren’t a lot of surprises on the defense depth chart. Nick Okeke starting over Boosie Whitlow at OLB is a surprise, but expect both to contribute at a moderate clip on defense. Rodjay Burns is listed as an OLB on the depth chart, but his role is more of a hybrid position in defensive coordinator Bryan Brown’s system, more along the lines of a LB/S.
At cornerback, I am surprised that Anthony Johnson isn’t listed as the clear CB1. I figured with him being the most impressive cornerback to end the 2018 season, that he would have parlayed that into a full-time starting role in 2019. But, CB1 appears to be Johnson “or” fifth-year senior Cornelius Sturghill.
The area I like the most on the depth chart is kick and punt returner. As expected, Hassan Hall and Rodjay Burns will be the primary kick and punt returners, respectively. Junior safety Russ Yeast will be paired with Hall on kick returns, and sophomore slot receiver Tutu Atwell is backing up Burns on punt returns. Both Hall and Burns are proven guys that can take kicks back for touchdowns, and that will be key as the offense looks to rebuild.