Let's dig in on the knowns, unknowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns in assessing our North Texas State starters.
DE - Cedric Reed
DT - Malcom Brown
DT - Desmond Jackson
DE - Shiro Davis vs. Caleb Bluiett
Reed, Brown and Jackson are cemented as starters and Shiro has gotten most of the run with the 1s, but Bluiett will have a chance to make his push if Davis doesn't show well against the run and in covering ground in short zone drops from his weak side DE position. Cottrell is useful as a pass rusher, but he's not someone you want lined up in a 5 technique squeezing down on the run.
It's also worth noting that a newly assertive Hassan Ridgeway all but guarantees himself starter equivalent snaps against pass first teams if Jackson continues to be stonewalled by quality guards in pass protection. I'm not yet clear on the 4th DT - I suspect that will materialize quickly over the course of the season.
SLB - Peter Jinkens
MLB - Steve Edmond
WLB - Jordan Hicks
They were the favorites coming into camp and nothing has changed here. Santos is a very capable back-up inside, Cole is technically competent if unexceptional and Demarco Cobbs is...wait for it...showing a lot of ability in practice and has been getting some run with the 1s. Another practice flash to be replaced by game day confusion or is actual coaching going to make a difference? Keep your eye on this.
CB - Quandre Diggs
CB - Duke Thomas
S- Jason Hall or Dylan Haines (with Josh Turner sniffing around)
S - Mykkele Thompson
Thompson is as cemented as a starter as Malcom Brown at DT. The other safety position is a question mark. With an exclamation point.
Jason Hall has been the surprise of his recruiting class and the walk-on Haines has proven Strong's desire to play the best, irrespective of scholarship status. Somewhere Michael Ungar and Kyle Shanahan yearn for eligibility again. The absence of Adrian Colbert is disappointing, but not all lights come on at the same time. It's too early to call the clear #1 and it remains to be seen how either candidate handles covering the wide swathes of green grass that Big 12 offenses are good at creating. Josh Turner is the known unknown - is he simply biding time until he comes off of suspension and wins back the coach's trust? Or is our current depth chart a reflection of pure on-field play?
Word is that this is the best Quandre Diggs we've seen to date. I'm hopeful on that prospect since his play has, to this point, actually degraded or flatlined since his true freshman year. Generally not a good thing in a football player. The unheralded Duke Thomas is likely to draw the toughest man assignment each week and we're going to put a lot on him. The #3 CB isn't clear just yet. We're assuming Echols, but I'm not sure if that's built on real evidence.
Overall, I'm pleased with how depth has shaped up in the DL and at LB, but DB is a significant concern. A rash of injuries there would have a drop-off in experience and development roughly equivalent to injuries at QB on the offense.
We'll tackle the offense next. Trying to put Joe Wickline's contingency-based OL depth chart in ink should be good for a laugh.
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