Grading the Depth

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Happy Thursday Cougs!!! Cougar football is getting closer and closer by the minute and after following this team through spring and fall, I’m ecstatic to see what is to come for 2011.  That’s the first time I’ve been able to say that in years.  

Something I else I haven’t been able to say in years is that the Cougs actually have some quality depth.  Remember the glory days of USC?  They were so deep that if one of their first or second string players went down, they had another 5-star waiting in the wings.  That may never be the case for the Cougs, but nonetheless Paul Wulff and company have built a strong roster…Not without it’s flaws however.  

So today, we are far enough through fall camp that we can have a good idea of what the depth of each group will look like this season.  So with that, I’m going to give a position by position grade to our 2011 Cougs.  I haven’t been able to do this for awhile.  A couple of years ago they would’ve gotten F’s across the board.  Read on for more…

Quarterbacks: B+

In a recent story on Jeff Tuel, Paul Wulff was quoted as saying:

“We have a Pac-(12) position now, 1 through 5.  We have five quarterbacks here who belong in the Pac-(12). Not all of them can start, but they are going to continue to compete, and a couple of those guys will emerge and play a lot of football over the next few years.”

The big guy seems pretty confident at the position, as he should.  Jeff Tuel is expected to be a stud this year, and his fall camp has indicated nothing less.  Marshal Lobbestael is a senior with starting experience, and Connor Halliday is emerging.  So why not an “A”?  If you watch this team, you’ll know there is a massive drop-off in talent and production when you take Tuel off the field.  Halliday is the future, but I don’t think he’s quite ready yet.  When Cody Clements and Austin Apodaca get older, we’re going to have some great depth.  

Running Backs: B

This grade would have been lower without the fact that Carl Winston is having a great fall camp.  Clearly Mitz and Galvin will be the guys who carry the load, but now Winston and true frosh Marcus Mason give us a pretty deep backfield capable of helping improve our woeful running game from the last few years.  However, the sample size for these guys (Especially Galvin and Mason) is very small.  They need to show us what they can do on Saturdays.  

Tight End: B-

Andrei Lintz has stepped up big.  I was so impressed watching him during the spring game and I’m so happy to hear that his solid spring has turned into a great fall.  So great that he’s holding our best recruit from the 2010 class, Aaron Dunn, down on the depth chart.  With that having been said, if Lintz goes down, Dunn is also a solid option for us.  After that there is virtually nothing resembling a Pac-12 tight end.  However, keep an eye out for true frosh Mansel Simmons.  As Longball has mentioned after watching him this camp, he is a freak of nature physically and looks to have a pretty good future.

Wide Receivers: A

It’s been well documented that long-time wide receivers coach Mike Levenseller has said that this may be the best group of receivers he’s ever coached.  Just for that alone they deserve an “A”.  They’ve done nothing to rebuke that statement this fall camp.  Even with the loss of Blair Bomber (whom I was really excited to see this year) to injury, this group has quality options down the board.  They’re so good in fact, that they may red-shirt Dominique Williams, a talented true frosh who has clearly shown this fall that he’s Pac 12-ready.  When’s the last time we’ve had the luxury to do that?

Offensive Line: C+

I’m pretty excited about the improvement on our offensive line.  However, I still think we’re an injury or two away from being a train-wreck once again.  Let’s face it, although he never showed much on the field, losing Tyson Pencer hurt.  He was expected to hold down the fort on our two deeps.  Add in the fact that Alex Reitnour may be done as well and all of a sudden our depth on the O-line is a little shaky.  Wulff doesn’t seem too worried about it, but I would if I were him.  If this group fails, he may lose his job.  There is no group that is more critical to our success this year than the O-line.

Defensive Line: C-

I think this is probably our thinnest group, as has been the case for probably the last 4 years.  However, because of injuries this fall, we have yet to see their full potential.  Guys like Brandon Rankin, Ian Knight, and Jordan Pu’u-Robinson have all missed time with minor injuries (Pu’u-Robinson has been resting his surgically repaired knee he hurt in fall camp last year).  They would like to redshirt some of their young players like David Davis, but if their health issues extend into the season, they may not have that luxury.  Much like the offensive line is for the offense, this group is going to be critical to our defensive success.  

Linebackers: A-

This group can play with the best of them.  The catalyst this fall however has been the well documented effort and intensity of C.J. Mizell.  I’ve always said that if somebody can whip his butt into shape and get him to focus on realizing some of the immense potential he possesses, we are going to have an future NFL linebacker anchoring our defense.  Thank God for Chris Tormey.  While the light bulb has seemed to click for Mizell, it’s going to be a long year so we’ll see how it plays out.  However, even without Mizell this is a very talented group.  What earned them the especially high grade was what people are referring to as “The Big 3.” That being Chester Sua, Logan Mayes, and Tana Pritchard, a group of true freshman that are turning heads big time this fall.  (Note I didn’t include Darryl Monroe because he played this spring and looks to have already cracked the 2-deeps).  Not only are we deep for this year, but we will be for many more years to come.

Secondary: B+

I really like how are secondary is starting to shape up and this is one of our deepest groups. They are very young, but simultaneously very experienced.  My only concern depth-wise however is at cornerback.  Losing Aire Justin to suspension hurt this team as he was a senior who was playing at a very high level this spring.  Also, Nolan Washington is talented, but oft-injured.  They MUST cut down on their mistakes in coverage if our defense is to improve, which means they need to keep their veterans on the field and healthy.  By the 2013 season, this could be one of the best secondaries in not only the conference, but in the country. 

Special Teams: C+

I’m not sold on our special teams.  Andrew Furney has had a decent fall camp, but outside of that he’s been shaky.  Dan Wagner has also had a good fall, but he’s no Reid Forrest.  Our return game is what saved this grade.  I expect Henry Eaddy to have a big impact in those regards.  If Rahmel Dockery ever makes it in, this will instantly bump it up to a B.  I’ve made it no secret how high I am on his potential.  Now let’s collectively cross our fingers he gets in….