A post-spring depth chart does not tell us everything. It cannot account for JUCO transfers and true freshpersons that will be eligible to play the following fall. And you never know if someone has been demoted to send a message even though he is destined to start in the fall. An injured player who will be good to go for the season opener may well be left off the chart. However, even though Louisiana Tech may look completely different than what the post-spring depth chart shows, this squad has some serious question marks.
As noted in BTP's early offseason update on La. Tech, no team has been more decimated by players exhausting their eligibility and coaches flying the coup than the Bulldogs, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the offensive trenches. Larry Banks, the projected starter at left guard, is the only lineman on the depth chart to have started a game for the Bulldogs last season, and he started all of four. Center Alec Davis appeared in two games last year and right tackle Jeremy Greenwalt got in a few games in 2011 before missing all of last year with an Achilles injury. Jens Danielsen and Richard Greenwalt are JUCO transfers coming off a redshirt season. Matt Sheppard, who made 12 starts a year ago, is not listed at all on the two-deep as he missed spring football while recovering from an injury. Even with Sheppard, who should be recovered in time for the regular season, this is a very green group.
However the big ugly situation plays out, the new O-line will be entrusted with protecting an equally green quarterback in Texas Tech transfer Scotty Young. Young was once the top-rated prep QB in Texas and the state's Gatorade Player of the Year, but the redshirt junior has never attempted a pass as a collegian.
Defensively, there is nary a returning starter in the back seven save for cornerbacks Le'Vander Liggins, who made a pair of picks last year as a true sophomore, and rising redshirt sophomore Bryson Abraham. The projected linebacker duo of Nick Thomason and Mitch Villemez have combined for a total of ZERO tackles at the FBS level in their careers (both are JUCO transfers that enrolled early enough to participate in spring workouts).
The five-man secondary (La. Tech sports a 4-2-5 look) has a lot of potential in free safety Lloyd Grogan, who ESPN rated as a top-10 talent in Louisiana out of high school. He chose the Bulldogs over offers from several ACC, Big 12, and SEC programs, but he is a redshirt freshperson who has never seen the field. True sophomore Kentrell Brice spurned an Oklahoma offer to play for the Bulldogs but has little college experience beyond the special teams units. Jabari Prewitt is a true junior who has managed a whopping two tackles in two seasons. Even the experienced Liggins and Abraham have not exactly been shutdown types. The Bulldogs yielded an FBS-worst 340 yards per game through the air last season.
Part of the reason for the porous passing defense is the lack of pass rush. The Bulldogs have a senior-laden line, but none of the front four has spent much time on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Tackle Shakeil Lucas will always have this, but the redshirt senior has all of one career sack and eight tackles for a loss after appearing in every La. Tech game over the last three seasons. His partner on the interior is even more invisible; redshirt senior Justin Ellis has one sack and just four tackles for a loss in 26 career games.
The defensive ends are a bit more talented, though both have been troubled by off the field issues. IK Enemkpali recorded six sacks a year ago and was named first-team all-WAC. He was also once pepper sprayed and stun gunned after picking a fight with a cop. Kendrick James (2.5 career sacks) will be on the other end. James received the program's M.I.A. award last year for his contributions to the team while unable to play. As odd as the award is to begin with, it's made even odder because it was given to a guy on academic suspension. Let's celebrate the guy who missed 10 games due to his bad grades! Enemkpali and James are both redshirt seniors.
Special teams may also prove to be a weak spot for the Bulldogs. Ryan Allen, who was the only punter in the nation to average over 48 yards per boot last season, is battling for the New England Patriots' punting gig. Serviceable placekicker Matt Nelson (12/18 FGs; 76/80 XPs) is also gone.
Of course, beyond all-universe long snapper Scott Thompson, N.C. State's special teams are nothing special despite having veterans in place. In fact, this matchup is eerie in just how similar the offseason themes are for both clubs. New coaching staff? Check. New QB? Check. Questions on the OL? Check. Linebacker shortages? Check. New faces in an underachieving secondary? Check.
The differences in a head-to-head comparison, however, are decidedly in N.C. State's favor. The Pack upgraded from a mediocre coaching staff with a head coach on the rise. The Bulldogs downgraded from an on the rise coach to a mediocre retread. Both teams have an experienced defensive line, but N.C. State's front four has actually been productive.
The one advantage La. Tech has is its running back, Kenneth Dixon, who set an NCAA freshman record with 28 touchdowns last year. Dixon eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark and was named WAC Rookie of the Year and a freshman all-American. But, with a new line and an unproven passer joining him in the backfield, Dixon might be in line for a sophomore slump. Certainly N.C. State's defensive line will be geared up to shut him down. If they do, Dave Doeren will win his Wolfpack debut.