Following the Spring Game, here is my guess at the 2016 opening depth chart.
Starter: Mitch Leidner
Backup: Demry Croft
The Rest: Conor Rhoda, Seth Green, Mark Williams
Repeat after me, "Mitch is the starter." He may struggle at times, especially early in the season (he tends to do that), but Mitch Leidner is the Gopher's starting quarterback and assuming good health, he will be all season. Demry Croft did nothing during the Spring Game to give anyone reason to think he will surpass Leidner on the depth chart. Mitch is the starter, and to be honest he will be one of the better starters in the Big Ten. Very experienced, a good leader, tough and has improved every year as a passer.
Demry struggled in the spring game, and maybe he gets pushed by Rhoda in the Fall, but I expect those are the only three QBs you may see this season. Green and Williams should redshirt.
Starter: Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith
Backup: Koby McCrary
The Rest: Jonathan Femi-Cole, James Johannesson
Brooks and Smith give the Gophers a really nice set of backs. Both are talented and would be starting for most Big Ten programs this year. If I had to pick, I would say that Brooks is my favorite but these two guys are going to carry the load for the Gopher offense this year. Improved passing game would be nice, but we will win or lose with a good running game...lead by these two sophomores.
Depth is probably a concern. Should the Gophers lose both Smith and Brooks to injury, the remaining running backs on the roster have a combined 0 career carries in a Gopher uniform. Coby McCrary comes in as a junior, JUCO transfer, and should be the team's third back if/when necessary. Femi-Cole and Johannesson spent last season redshirting and all we can really do is hope they are ready to go when they are needed. Johannesson had a big Spring Game, racking up 130 yards. Perhaps I shouldn't write him off as an unknown commodity, but I'm going to choose to not let one Spring Game get me too excited just yet (Defense Exhibit A: Berkley Edwards).
Starter: Drew Wolitrasky, Eric Carter, Rashad Still
Backup: Melvin Holland Jr, Isaiah Gentry, Hunter Register
The Rest: Brian Smith, Chris Streveler, Drew Hmielewski, Phillip Howard, Tyler Johnson
Replacing K.J. Maye is a big question for this offense. The very promising season by Rashad Still is reason for Gopher fans to be hopeful that we have a dangerous receiver who Big Ten defenses will have to account for. Still has good height and should really benefit from some added strength. Wolitarsky on the outside and Carter in the slot are guys that I expect to lead the team in receptions and will be reliable targets for Leidner.
Then you have a handful of talented kids who haven't put it together yet on the field. Gentry is often injured but more often referred to as one of the most talented kids on the roster. Holland Jr found his way onto the field last year but has had trouble with drops which is keeping him from earning more time. Register redshirted last year and could become a weapon on the outside.
The next group of intriguing players in this position group are the true freshmen. There is likely enough ahead of them, that they could all redshirt and find ways to contribute next year. Look for Howard to be groomed into the slot and maybe he finds his way onto the field behind Carter.
Lastly, don't sleep on Brian Smith. Smith is a non-scholarship player who tends to get the occasional mention as a kid who just may earn himself snaps and become a contributor on the field.
Starter: Brandon Lingen & Nate Wozniak
Backup: Nick Hart
The Rest: Bryce Witham, Colton Beebe, Ko Kieft
Lingen is a set starter at one of the TE spots but after him, this group is not as set in stone as to who will be starting and playing a lot this Fall. Lingen was an All-Big Ten honorable mention, finishing third on the team in receptions and starting 10 games. He will be an integral part of the offense. On the other side? Maybe Anyanwu is able to overcome his signicant injury issues and has a breakout year, maybe Wozniak locks down the position and finds a way to utilize his unique size, maybe one of the freshmen steps up to earn the job.
Starter: Garrison Wright, Connor Mayes, Tyler Moore, Vincent Calhoun, Jonah Pirsig
Backup: Chad Fahning (T), Bronson Dovich (G), Jared Wyler (C/G)
The Rest: Nick Connelly, Quinn Oseland
Key group if this offense wants to take significant steps forward this year. The starters listed above seem to be pretty close to set and the returns on Saturday were encouraging, especially on the right side. Left Tackle is the one position that needs to be locked down. Maybe Wright is the answer and he peforms well. Or maybe he is the current best guy for the job. But the most important spot along the OL is the one up in the air.
There are, of course, several other names on the roster who could contribute, but I suspect that those are the 10 most common names you'll throughout the season with both of the true freshmen redshirting this year.
There you have it, the projected offensive depth chart that is guaranteed to be wrong by the time we hit the field on September 1st! Your thoughts?