Now that signing day is out of the way we can figure out where our new players will fit in. Naturally, with a very small class, it means that quite a few players are returning. It doesn't seem like this class is full of instant impact guys that will dislodge proven starters. I do think we have some guys that will be key reserves immediately. In the long run, that could be a good thing. They will have a chance to get used to the system and contribute in small ways before we have to rely on them. If someone blows up like Ricardo Allen or Ralph Bolden, even better.
So, here is who I think will be starting when we face Middle Tennessee State in the season opener:
Quarterback: Robert Marve - Coach Hope has staked a lot on Marve, so I think he gets the nod if he is healthy. Marve has cleaned up his act since leaving Miami and has been a model student at Purdue. I want to see him have success and overcome the bad luck since he got here. On the down side, he has barely played a significant amount of football in almost three years. His knee has been repaired twice. That means his health will always be in question. Fortunately, Rob Henry is also back. Henry showed some promise late last year. If he doesn't start I think he will position himself to start in 2012.
Running Back: Ralph Bolden - I feel a little better about Bolden because by the time the season starts he will have had about 17 months to heal. Given the number of running backs we signed he won't have to handle the load all himself, either. Jared Crank will come back and get some carries at fullback. Akeem Shavers was recruited to play right away and could be a Jaycen Taylor-type. Reggie Pegram is style in the fold, but I bet Doug Gentry or Akeem Hunt will receive a few carries somewhere along the line.
Wide Receivers: Keith Smith, Antavian Edison, O.J. Ross, Justin Siller - Assuming that Smith gets his 6th year he will be the most critical player back. A major reason our offense struggled last year was because our inexperienced quarterbacks didn't have a go-to possession receiver, especially on third down. How many drives could Smith have extended? If we get Keith back at full strength the offense will improve dramatically because he was almost an automatic first down every time he caught the ball. Edison and Ross showed a lot last year, while Siller was never truly healthy. As far as backups, I think Gary Bush will develop more, while I am excited to see Charles Torwudzo as a deep threat. Shane Mikesky and Frankie Williams can possibly play right away.
Tight End: Game Holmes - I think Holmes will be the primary pass-catching tight end, while Sterling Carter will see time as a blocker and goal line TE. Justin Sinz has also had a year to redshirt and is supposedly very athletic.
Offensive Line: Peters Drey (center), Ken Plue (guard), James Shepherd (guard), Dennis Kelly (tackle), Nick Mondek (tackle) - The good news is that only Justin Pierce graduates off the line. The bad news is there is little to no depth. Connor Snapp could also play in place of Shepherd, while Andrew Brewer, Trevor Foy, and Jack DeBoef will need to be ready. Cody Davis has also moved to offensive line and could be the backup center coming out of his redshirt year.
We will have plenty of experience on the offensive side of the ball. The only major contributors lost were Dan Dierking, Cortez Smith, and Justin Pierce. Their replacements are allegedly better. Hopefully this will allow for improvement because everyone got experience last year with all the injuries. Three quarterbacks have started at least one game (though I would not be surprised if Sean Robinson took his redshirt, especially if Caleb TerBush comes back). We just need to find one that is consistent.
Defensive Line: Gerald Gooden, Kawann Short, Bruce Gaston, Antwon Higgs - Three of these starters are pretty solid as Gaston, Short, and Gooden started almost every game last year. The fourth is a major loss with Ryan Kerrigan graduating. I think you'll see Higgs move up and convert to DE, though Rob Kugler could be an instant impact guy as well. Robert Maci, Ryan Isaac, and Rashad Frazier could also battle for this spot. We don't have many holes, but this is the largest one to fill. Unfortunately, no one is going to come in and play like Kerrigan, so the unit as a whole must get better.
Linebackers: Will Lucas, Dwayne Beckford, Joe Holland - It will be interesting to see where Joe Gilliam factors in. He supposedly had a good practice year while redshirting , so I expect to see him somewhere on the field. Chris Carlino also has a ton of experience, while DeVarro Greaves gave us some good minutes. Can we keep Armstead Williams off the field here too, or will he step in immediately? I know nothing about Kaulana Judd, but he is already 22 and is listed as a linebacker/safety. As a JuCo guy he has to be considered.
Secondary: Ricardo Allen (cornerback), Josh Johnson (cornerback), Albert Evans (safety), E.J. Johnson (safety) - The secondary was surprisingly good last year for all of its lack of experience. Allen has all-Big Ten potential, while I really want to see what Johnson can do out of redshirt. Normando Harris, Michael Eargle, Max Charlot, and Charlton Williams also played a lot for depth purposes. This unit seems pretty solid. Logan Link was a liability at times, but he did make a few plays.
Specialists: Carson Wiggs (kicker), Cody Webster (punter), Kevin Ballinger (long snapper), Raheem Mostert (returner) - Two thirds of the famous Blur is gone, but Kevin Ballenger seems like quite the character on Twitter, so he will take over for the Finchmachine. Webster's mom is the official supplier of Yuengling, so the fact he is a solid punter is merely a bonus. I think Mostert will be a starter from day one as a return specialist, with Frankie Williams helping out.
Again, there is plenty of experience back as only Jason Werner and Ryan Kerrigan need to be replaced. I don't think the unit was that bad last year, but they were put in some awful positions by a bad offense. I like Ricardo Allen not just because he is extremely talented, but because he is developing into a leader this team needs. He has a bit of swagger to him on the field that I think can spill over to others. He's not afraid to hit someone and he is itching to make big plays. I hope that infects the team.
The loss of Kerrigan is gigantic though. You don't get better by saying goodbye to one of the best players in school history. The unit as a whole could be better simply because they know they can't rely on Ryan to save them anymore.