Thursday, January 18, 2007

the Nine | by Pat

Snuck in at the beginning of Darius Walker's recent press conference was a statement from Charlie Weis on the likely 5th-year seniors returning to the program next year. They all still have to go through the application process and be accepted by the University, but I don't foresee any of them not being back next year.

The nine players listed by Weis are: Tom Zbikowski, Travis Thomas, John Carlson, John Sullivan, Trevor Laws, Dwight Stephenson, Joe Brockington, Ambrose Wooden, and Geoff Price.

Every player on the list, save Dwight Stephenson, was a starter at some point during the season and likely will be next year as well. My guess is that Travis Thomas will slide back over to running back full-time as the experiment at linebacker didn't exactly work out as hoped. And while he only played 9 minutes this year, Stephenson doesn't really have too much veteran competition and has every chance to earn a starting defensive end spot next season.

The depth the returning nine bring the team will sorely be needed as the early departure of Darius Walker drops the senior class to only seven remaining players: two on offense and five on defense. Even worse, only two of the seven, Maurice Crum and Terrail Lambert, are projected starters next year.

So that means team will return only 9 of 22 starters next year -- 4 on offense, 5 on defense -- and 5th year seniors/seniors only account for 6 of those returning starters. Some of the younger players on the team will need to step up; the junior, sophomore, and freshman classes will cover up to 15 of the 22 starting spots next year.

The sorely deficient second- and third-year recruiting efforts of Ty Willingham are coming home to roost. However, despite the absolute truth in that statement, it can't be used as a crutch to absolve next year's results. Coach Weis and his staff are ultimately responsible for what happens next year, even if the team will have more assistant coaches than starting seniors. (Think about that for a moment). Thankfully, the return of so many 5th-year eligible players will lend a few more veterans to what is going to be an extremely young team next year.