Tuesday, December 15, 2009


In my self-appointed role as Al Groh apologist, even I have to raise my eyebrows at a couple of Al's decisions this year regarding true freshmen. Most people do more than that, of course - a couple folks going all the way to the extent of pointing to the 14 true freshmen used this year as proof positive that Al does in fact hate the University - for why else would he so irreversibly damage our future?

Last week, Jeff White presented the breakdown of true freshmen on the field. Who played, and how much. Al's always liked to use them, this year more so than just about ever. 14 is a big, big number, and one of the usual tacks when criticizing Groh is that it's way too many. Often, people point to just the number as evidence. I thought I'd break this down a little further, though. A lot of these are justifiable - you'd have to be just not even thinking about it to claim all 14 shouldn't have played. Let's see who should and shouldn't have been out there.

Not Only Justifiable, But Would Have Been Criminal Not To Use Them:

- Tim Smith. Third-most productive receiver, and could easily be remembered as the best of this bunch when all's said and done. With the unit absolutely desperate for talent, I don't think I ever saw anyone argue that he shouldn't have played, and nobody should.

- Tucker Windle. Don't look at me like that. Another common criticism of Al is that he didn't develop enough playable depth. Actually kind of a problem for the linebackers this year - the previous group was so solid that they played all the time, and now we have seniors and juniors stepping up that really haven't seen much action. Well, here's your playable depth. Granted, our need for ILB's just got cut in half, but Groh can't be assuming that. Windle looked solid enough in his time out there, and he needs his share of reps.

- Oday Aboushi. Left tackle has been a punching bag of mine all season. Not 100% sure how fair that is in the end, but I can't say I was pleased at all by Landon Bradley's play this year. This should be an open competition next year, and Aboushi not only deserves his reps, the team needed him to get them.

- Will Hill. Before the season, DE depth was one of the major concerns. We always really knew we'd need to dip into the true freshman pool at DE, and Hill enrolled early, giving him a leg up. Not only that, though: having Hill on the field is useful proof for the admissions people, should the coaches ever want to make the case (they better), that early enrollment is a big benefit to the program.

Not Essential, But Perfectly Justifiable

- Dominique Wallace. It looked like he was headed for quite a bit of use until he got hurt. And we ended up with not a lot of usable depth at running back. Mikell Simpson is an injury magnet, Torrey Mack proved himself unable to pass-block, and Perry Jones is itty-bitty and not your first choice when the offensive line is average at best at run-blocking. We didn't really need Wallace out there, but I personally was wanting to see more. And we get that year back anyway thanks to a likely medical redshirt.

- Perry Jones. Again with the need for a little rotation at running back. Plus, Jones averaged 16 special teams plays a game - that's basically most of them. Might as well use the best we got, if he's it.

Would Have Preferred Not To See Them, But You Can Still Make An Argument

- Laroy Reynolds. Got some special teams action - about 10 plays a game - but not really enough to say we were using him because he was clearly the best at it. What I'd like to have seen is the breakdown of which special teams plays he was in on. If he was a kickoff/punt coverage regular but maybe not in for the returns, you could waffle him back and forth between here and the above column.

- Connor McCartin. Ended the season on the two-deep. Playable depth would again be a workable argument if he'd gotten more than four plays on defense. Still, when you're on the two-deep, you're on the two-deep - it seems disingenuous to list a guy there and then not play him in situations where you'd play the backup.

- Drew Jarrett. People forget: The guy's a walk-on. Redshirting him is the same thing as telling him he'll need to pay his way through a fifth year of college - and grad school at that, which is much more expensive. I don't think you ask that of a guy, unless you're prepared to offer him that fifth year gratis.

- Paul Freedman. Our tight ends - that is, Torchia and Phillips - were not too spectacular this year, either. Drops were a problem. I can see where you'd want to fire a shot across their bow by putting the third-string in there.

Put The Redshirt And The Matches Down, Coach

- Quintin Hunter. We had enough wide receivers out there. Hunter had one catch all year despite participating in 89 offensive plays. That's not justification to play him.

- LoVante' Battle. The contribution from him just wasn't worth it. Battle is probably not destined for stardom, but you might as well be patient and see what happens.

- Javanti Sparrow. See Battle.

- Corey Lillard. See Battle and Sparrow, times ten, and maybe minus the part about stardom. Lillard was a well-though-of recruit we had to beat a lot of good teams for. Ten plays? If you're going to get angry about redshirt-burning, this is the one to hang your hat on.

There's the possibility, by the way, of a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that we fans aren't privy to. Maybe one of the freshmen told Groh, "hey, I don't want to play a fifth year, I want to get my degree on schedule and get moving with my life - play me if I deserve it." Maybe we have a highly motivated freshman class that wanted to get out their and prove their special teams chops - Groh always said that special teams were your gateway to the field.

Still, from a purely analytical standpoint here, I think there are at least four and possibly eight that shouldn't have played, and six that definitely should have. But you have to remember: this isn't irreversible. What's irreversible is the redshirts. If Mike London wants to, he can put the shirt back on these fourteen players.

In particular, I think the following players would be excellent candidates: McCartin, Freedman, Hunter, and one or two of the defensive backs. There's not enough depth at defensive back to redshirt them all again plus the incoming class too. But two tight ends for the year are plenty, and we get back Torchia and Phillips. The 4-3 gives us lots of depth at ILB - we shouldn't need McCartin. We don't graduate any receivers but Hall, and we're never going to see another four- or five-receiver set, so Hunter can sit. And Robert Randolph is certainly capable of kicking extra points if we really want a fifth year out of Jarrett.

Bottom line here: Groh could certainly have run this year without using so many true freshman, but anybody who complains about using 14 without a look at who actually played and how much isn't thinking it through enough. And it's not as if any damage is irreversible. Redshirts aren't only for the freshman year. Myself I am only complaining about four. That's not program-killing stuff.

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