UMass has released its first official depth chart as an FBS program.
First thought: UMass is young.
The Minutemen are starting four freshmen – redshirt or true – on offense. Redshirt freshman Mike Wegzyn is starting quarterback, true freshman Tajae Sharpe beat out Deion Walker for a wide receiver spot, true freshman Michael Boland is starting at left guard, and redshirt freshman Jamie Casselberry is the right guard.
The offensive line has been hit by the youth infusion particularly hard. Redshirt freshman John Wallace, who had been battling Boland for the right guard position, is his backup. Meanwhile, Matt Sparks, the true freshman from Hawaii, will be backing up starting center Quinton Sales. At right guard, true freshman Tyrell Smith is backing up Casselberry.
On defense, there is a bit more experience. However, redshirt freshman Randall Jette will start at cornerback, and his only backup is true freshman Trey Dudley-Giles.
And, as we mentioned yesterday, true freshman Blake Lucas will be kicking for points.
In total, there are 17 redshirt or true freshmen on the two-deep depth chart.
Second thought: Nothing is guaranteed.
Of the three fifth-year transfers, only Michigan transfer Mike Cox is listed as a definitive starter, and that’s at kick returner. It appears that Cox and Chris Burns are stil duking it out for the starting spot at running back. My guess is that it will be a running back by committee until one of them separates from the pack.
Meanwhile Walker, a Notre Dame transfer, is trailing behind Sharpe for the No. 2 receiver spot, but I’m sure he will get on the field a decent amount within the spread offense.
Finally, Hafis Williams, the other Notre Dame transfer, is playing second-fiddle to Galen Clemons. Clemons, who himself transferred to UMass from Central Michigan, had a solid year for the Minutemen last year, so it’s no surprise that he held on to that spot.
Third thought: The kick return situation is all new.
After Julian Talley and Jesse Julmiste graduated, it was clear that UMass would need some new faces to return punts and kicks. Now Antoine Tharpe, who will also be starting at cornerback, will be returning punts, and Cox and Marken Michel will be fielding kicks.
Lost in the shuffle is sophomore Brian Dowling, who went from the odds-on favorite to win at least one return position, to being the back-up punt returner. Dowling had eight kick returns last year, and was a quality recruit at that position coming out of Wayne Hills High School.
However, Dowling is listed as a backup receiver, and may see action when UMass spreads out the offense.
Final thought: Molnar is building for the future.
With the infusion of true and redshirt freshmen throughout the lineup, it is clear that Coach Molnar is trying to give the young guys experience and build for the next few seasons. Former coach Kevin Morris more or less left the cupboard empty – UMass had no experience at wide receiver, a dwindling offensive line and a kicking situation that was less-than ideal.
When Molnar went out and recruited this season, one of his pitches was the ability to play right away. Now, we are seeing the fruits of that promise. Many of these guys could be four-year starters for UMass, which will pay dividends in the future – particularly at offensive line. With guys like Boland, Wallace and Casselberry getting reps against FBS talent, they will be a cohesive and powerful unit by the time they are seniors.
The skill positions will also benefit, and by all accounts Sharpe could make an immediate name for himself at receiver.
The most interesting position is quarterback. A.J. Doyle isn’t redshirting and Wegzyn still has four years of eligibility. That means that, barring a future redshirt or injury, these two could be competing for a spot for the next four seasons.