Now that the regular season has ended for football we can spend the next couple of weeks reflecting on the various decisions and outcomes. I’m sure smarter people than I will analyze coaching and schematic decisions. Instead, I’ll address another topic that comes up often on the blog: the subject of red-shirting players. This post will look at the freshman class in the context of which ones were able to redshirt and which ones weren’t. Then we can debate these outcomes with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
What makes this season so unusual was the significant number of close games. I suspect that after the first two wins over WMU and Notre Dame that the coaches were planning to give some young players some garbage time minutes against Akron and UConn to see if they would be viable rotation players later in the season. We all know how that turned out – with no other “blowout” wins the rest of the season except for Minnesota (how did that happen again?) and thus limited snaps for players who had seen garbage time minutes at the beginning of the season. You have to wonder how some players would have developed (Dymonte Thomas for example) had they been able to play more significant minutes early in the season.
Before we begin, let’s discuss the philosophy we’ll use when analyzing these players. You have no doubt heard Brian talk about the need to redshirt any player who isn’t an active member of the two deep. A classic example would be his man-crush – Dennis Norfleet. Instead of playing him a handful of snaps his entire freshman year, why not redshirt him and gain the benefit of a fifth season? In general I would agree with Brian’s philosophy – a healthy program redshirts as many players as possible, especially in the trenches. Wisconsin and Michigan State are good examples of this right now. However, I will cut the coaches some slack because I think Michigan is trying to build a program and dealing with limited upper classmen in the depth chart. If someone can help on special teams or with more practice time in the two-deep, we need them to play to make sure this coaching staff is in place when they are seniors (especially considering the recruiting success thus far under Hoke – more good players are on the way). Likewise, there are some recruits that may have a limited ceiling and may help the program the most in a limited role – picture Royce Jenkins-Stone – and getting them on the field for four years rather than five likely has a limited effect overall.
Now on to the 2013 freshman. I think we need a CHART. What you’ll see here is a list of the redshirts* and my assessment as to whether the correct decision was made by the coaches. Obviously the coaches know best and this is just one man's opinion of the redshirt status, but it should generate some interesting discussion in the comments.
|QB||Shane Morris||No||Necessary||Given that he played only one useless series against MSU and a single play when Gardner lost his helmet after the WMU game, it is tempting to say he should have redshirted. Unfortunately, the Bellamy injury made it necessary to develop him and he probably should have seen the field more to give Gardner a rest – we just couldn’t open up the lead enough. Tough call – he probably had to play.|
|RB||Derrick Green||No||Good||He got a fair number of carries and considering the struggles of the running game he probably should have gotten more.|
|RB||DeVeon Smith||No||Good||Given the promise he showed in limited carries and the struggles of the offense you can’t argue burning his redshirt, but you can argue they should have used him more. Prior to the Northwestern game I was advocating for him to have a mysterious back injury like Devin Gardner to reclaim his redshirt since he went weeks without seeing a carry. But in hindsight, he should have been given more carries, not a redshirt.|
|FB||Wyatt Shallman||Yes||Good||Given the depth at the position and his previous injuries, it was the right decision.|
|TE||Jake Butt||No||Good||Excellent decision as he was the only useful TE on the roster this year and should be a major contributor next season.|
|TE||Khalid Hill||Yes||Good||Considering how poorly the TE’s played for much of the season, it is tempting to have thrown him out there and see what you have. But remember that blocking was their issue and undersized freshmen are not going to be good at blocking…unless they come from Pahokee, FL.|
|WR||Da'Mario Jones||No||Poor||When your only notable play from the season is accidentally touching a muffed punt, a redshirt was probably warranted. If the coaches weren’t going to play him on offense but like his future, why not redshirt him?|
|WR||Jaron Dukes||Yes||Good||Hardly any young WR got significant snaps, wise to redshirt.|
|WR||Csont'e York||No||Questionable||Given that on paper neither Dukes or York project to be significant contributors with more heralded recruits at their position on the way, why not put one of them on special teams instead of Jones?|
|OL||Kyle Bosch||No||Questionable||When a guy starts multiple games you figure it was the correct decision to burn his redshirt. On top of that, this OL class had a full six members to it so splitting up their eligibility isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But given Bosch’s struggles and the fact that he ended up losing his job, you have to wonder if someone else (Kalis, Bryant, Miller, Braden, Bars) could have performed just as well.|
|Yes||Good||Had Kugler been healthy you have to wonder if he would have been the next man up in the revolving door that was the OL this season, but it was the right decision to keep all of these redshirts and hope for the best next season.|
|DL||Taco Charlton||No||Good||He made little impact, but he did end up a part of the rotation late in the season so it is hard to fault his playing time. Next season he should compete at WDE and SDE so the experience should help.|
|Yes||Good||Interior defensive linemen rarely contribute as freshman and you should try to keep their redshirts if at all possible (*cough* Will Campbell *cough*). Both could be in the rotation at positions of need next season and emulate the emergence of Willie Henry.|
|LB||Ben Gedeon||No||Good||When you have three viable LB in the rotation along with another playing significant snaps on special teams you would hope to redshirt a guy like Gedeon. But he was forced to play due to injury and actually did reasonably well.|
|LB||Mike McCray||Yes||Good||As a “tweener” linebacker with a lot of depth in front of him it was good to keep his redshirt.|
|No||Good||They had their struggles at times and you have to wonder if Hollowell could have emulated their performance, but you didn’t need to redshirt all of the freshmen. Their snaps were actually pretty high and they shared the “first DB off the bench” title this season. The two of them will compete for the nickel, safety, and dime positions next season.|
|Yes||Good||We had a glut of unheralded corners on the team this year so it was good to redshirt at least a couple of them.|
|DB||Dymonte Thomas||No||Good||He represents the biggest difference between expectation and performance of anyone in the class. That probably isn’t fair to him since our expectations were likely inflated, but it is a reality. The five star recruit was expected to be a major part of the rotation and instead barely played. He had an amazing blocked punt to start the season and then vanished until late when he struggled in a cameo at nickel back. His development next season will be very interesting as we desperately need help at safety, yet two of his classmates have passed him at nickel back and Peppers joins the squad in a similar capacity. Having his athleticism patrolling at free safety sounds intriguing, but he has a long way to go and lots of other DBs ahead of him on the depth chart.|
|DB||Delano Hill||No||Good||He was a constant presence on special teams and looks more like a linebacker than a safety out there…impressive for a freshman. Considering we need to find a starting safety for next season, getting game experience for a physically mature freshman isn’t a bad thing.|
|LS||Scott Sypniewski||Yes||Good||He’s a long snapper….|
If you look at the overall results, only D’Mario Jones jumps out as a major miss by the coaches. I would count Bosch, Morris, and York as questionable. Bosch and Morris were almost forced by the depth chart and injuries. York probably should have kept his redshirt, but his fifth year likely has limited value considering the incoming talent and depth at the position. That is a better result than I expected when I started this so I guess I have to applaud the coaches for their overall success in this area.
I wanted to end with my two-cents on Shane Morris. We can shake our fists at a variety of circumstances that prevented his redshirt this season, but let’s talk about next year. I’ve seen several comments on the board about trying to redshirt him next season. This is an interesting idea and has its upside. Certainly if Gardner plays 95% of the snaps next season you’d want to redshirt him and use Bellamy for emergency situations. But I don’t agree with that strategy. I think you need to take the opposite approach – Morris should play as much as the situation allows. Just to be clear, in no way am I advocating benching Gardner. What I’m actually suggesting is that the coaches should be trying to get Gardner out of the game more often to keep him healthy and get Morris snaps. We will need a starting quarterback in 2015 and getting real snaps can only help. Obviously we need to be able to get ahead to afford us the opportunity to pull Gardner, but I think they should also be more comfortable giving Gardner a series or two off so he can pick rib cartilage from his jersey.
Assuming Morris plays next season, he’ll have two years as a starter after Gardner leaves with Bellamy and Speight behind him. When Morris graduates you’ll have Speight as a junior ready to take over the spot and 2-3 more new recruits from 2015 and 2016 filling out the depth chart. The only scenario where I think redshirting Morris next season makes sense is if you think Bellamy is your second best QB and he is a legitimate contender to start in 2015. Otherwise I want Morris ready to step in right away if Gardner gets hurt or when he graduates.
* Note – There are a couple of players that I was a little unsure of so if you have conflicting information, post in the comments and I’ll update the chart.