For the second season in a row, Mike London's coaching staff has brought in a much heralded freshman class of Wahoos. Last year's class included a handful of blue-chip offensive talents and skill positions players. This year's class focused a little bit more on defense and on the lines. In last year's class, the main focus was improving team speed. While that remains an important goal, this class also helps improve the team's size and strength.
Let's take a look at what the team needs were coming into this recruiting period, and how the team met its goals.
Obviously, when looking at team needs, we need to look at which players will be graduating. Coming off an 8-5 season, the Hoos are losing a lot. Gone from the offense are stars such as Kris Burd, Austin Pasztor, Anthony Mihota, Matt Snyder and Max Milien. Gone from the defense are Chase Minnifield, Matt Conrath, Nick Jenkins, Cam Johnson, Aaron Taliaferro, Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley. That is more than half of the starting squad leaving due to graduation. That is a scary list for Hoo fans. Especially on the defensive side of the ball, we are losing a ton of talent. We've lost 75% of our defensive line and 75% of our secondary. How well will we be able to replace these players?
We all know that most incoming freshmen are not ready to play right away. Even the ones that are tend to improve a great deal between their first and second years. Darius Jennings, for example, looked like a different player in the Peach Bowl than he did early in the season. So while some of the 2012 recruits will undoubtedly see early playing time, most of them aren't expected to contribute until 2013 at the earliest. Therefore, we also need to look further ahead to see what the teams' needs will be in the future.
Due to a couple of down years on the recruiting trail at the end of the Al Groh era, the 2012 senior class is not very big. There will only be about 9 seniors playing regular snaps next year. This includes such team leaders as RB Perry Jones and OLB LaRoy Reynolds, along with LT Oday Aboushi and ILB Steve Greer. All 4 of those guys will be difficult to replace. Furthermore, our two most experienced TEs will be graduating after next season, so we will have to replace Paul Freedman and Colter Phillips as well.
For the upcoming season, the most glaring needs are going to be the DLs and DBs, which I already noted above. Interestly, the two offensive positions most in need are their counterparts, OL and WR. Most of the players who will be asked to step up into these positions are already here, but there are a few candidates in this class who are expected to jump right onto the 2-deep. This includes the star of the class, DE Eli Harold. While the Hoos are stocked with a number of promising DE candidates, including returning starter Jake Snyder, perhaps none have the athletic ability of Mr. Harold. Bill Schautz was expected to be the starter opposite Snyder, but his status is unknown due to a gruesome injury suffered against FSU. If Schautz isn't ready to go, Harold had better be. One of the other top recruits in this class, Michael Moore, is also probably going to be slotted at DE. Moore, the son of Virginia WR coach (and all time great QB) Shawn Moore, may also be physically ready to play. However, I think it is likely he redshirts this year. His frame may end up being too big for a 4-3 DE and he may end up moving inside. He could turn into a devastating DT. Another DL who may end up at either DE or DT is Courtney Wynn. At 6'6", Wynn has the right build for a big DE, but he needs to put on muscle, and as he does he may outgrow the position.
The secondary is a bigger issue. Not only is there less talent waiting in the wings, but there isn't a surefire difference maker in this class. Luckily, we have enough bodies there to comfortably fill in the 2-deep for this year. The question is more of quality than quantity. We know what we have in Tra Nicholson. Beyond him, there are a lot of question marks back there. There will definitely be a couple of CBs and Ss in this class; it's just that, right now, it's difficult to say who will be where. That makes projecting anybody for this season difficult. Maurice Canady is probably going to be a CB, and at 6'2" and 180 lbs, he projects very well there. But is he ready to step in and be a contributor this year? I'm not so sure. Similarly sized Demeitre Brim has a lot of potential at S, but also might not be ready. Plus, Brim might move to LB, in part because of a dearth of talent there.
Speaking of LBs, we are actually pretty set there for 2012. We return 6 of the 7 LBs on our most up-to-date depth chart (there are 3 MLBs listed on the 2-deep). The problem is that Greer and Reynolds are both rising seniors and are going to be asked to lead the defense this year. That is 2 more bodies that we need to replace going forward. That makes LB a need for the 2012 recruiting class. Enter Kwontie Moore. The 6'2" 240 lb Moore is one of the top LB prospects in the nation, and looks ready to step in at MLB right now. Barring injury, there doesn't appear to be much playing time available to him for 2012, so he may redshirt even though he is ready. But in 2013, Moore should be starting at one of the LB spots.
The WR position for the Hoos in 2012 will be led by junior Tim Smith, and sophomores Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell. There are other WRs on the roster that may or may not have roles next season, but those 3 are the only ones who can realistically be counted on. At 6'0" and 180 lbs, Tim Smith is the biggest of the 3. The Hoos simply needed to improve their overall depth at the position, along with bringing in some receivers with size.
There are a number of players in this class who could end up as WR. The two who most fit the current need are Canaan Severin and Mario Nixon. Severin is 6'2" and 210 pounds. He has the speed to run deep routes, as well as the size and leaping ability to run a fade route. Nixon is 6'5" and 220 lbs. With his size, Nixon provides a very difficult matchup for opposite DBs. Nixon also has outstanding speed for his size. Unless one of the bigger receivers currently on the roster steps up, Severin and/or Nixon will have to contribute in 2012. The wild card here is Adrian Gamble, who was a 2011 recruit but spent the season at Fork Union Military Academy. Gamble is 6'2" and about 200 pounds and may well step in right away and compete for playing time. In fact, while Severin and Nixon may have higher ceilings, Gamble is the better player right now.
Offensive line is always a need position. The truth is that OL prospects tend to be higher risk than other positions. With 18 year old kids weighing 300 pounds, things can go wrong. There are knee problems and back problems, not to mention the difficult in maintaining that amount of weight and keeping up the athleticism and agility to play at this level. That means bringing in at least a couple of OL recruits every year. This year was no exception as the Hoos bring in 5 solid contenders (although recent reports are that Tyrell Chavis will have to take a prep year.). Two are projected on the outside, while the others are projected on the inside. Ryan Doull, in particular, is an intriguing prospect because he spent a year at Fork Union after playing high school football in Canada, much like Pasztor did. All 5 OL prospects will almost definitely redshirt, as there is adequate depth ahead of them, despite the loss of Mihota and Pasztor.
Key positions like QB and RB are also going to be important for every class. An injury to a QB can be devastating to a team if there isn't a capable player behind him. Just ask the Indianapolis Colts. Running backs tend to be a little bit more interchangeable, but most teams around the country rotate 2 or 3 RBs throughout a season. Having quality depth at these two positions is a must. To that end, the Hoos have brought in 2 strong QB recruits and a big time RB recruit.
Greyson Lambert isn't technically a 2012 recruit, as he has already enrolled, but he is one of the top QB prospects in the nation. Both he and Matt Johns are in the 6'5" 200 pound range, which is ideal for a pro-style QB. Johns will definitely redshirt, and Lambert will unless there is some desperate situation. Both will compete with David Watford for playing time going forward.
Considering the depth at RB with Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson going into just their sophomore campaigns, we are well suited there. Still, bringing in a guy like Kyle Morgan is important. Morgan will likely redshirt during the 2012 season, and will use that time to build up his strength. At 5'11" 170 lbs, he is probably too slight to play right now, but his speed and quickness are intriguing. For a team that uses its RB in the passing game as much as the Hoos do, Morgan's ability as a receiver is a big plus.
Specialists often get overlooked on days like today, but it should be noted that the Hoos have brought in both a kicker and a punter as recruited walk-ons. Considering Jimmy Howell, Robert Randolph and Chris Hinkebein all graduate this year, these were truly positions of need. Punter James Coleman and kicker Dylan Sims will both be fighting for jobs this fall (both links point to youtube highlights). There are also a number of players in this class who will help out on special teams. Divante Walker is a guy who could return some kicks for us.
All in all, this is a great class of Wahoos. It may not be as highly regarded as last year's class, because it lacks the exciting playmakers. What it doesn't lack in, though, is quality individuals who will be assets to the football team and the University community as a whole. London and his assistants did a great job of filling some holes in the roster, and upgrading some positions that needing improvement. This is class that will help lead the Hoos to a bigger and brighter future.