The grass is greener on the other side. At least, CSU head football coach Jim McElwain thinks so. This spring, he is moving five players to brand new positions, looking at the ball from the other side of the line of scrimmage.
The loss of key players — tight end Crockett Gillmore, defensive back Shaq Bell, running backs Kapri Bibbs and Donnell Alexander, wide receiver Thomas Coffman, safety Austin Gray and four out of five starters on the offensive line — put McElwain in a tight spot. So, he got creative.
McElwain is big on production off the scoreboard — he pays attention to the guys whose work goes unnoticed by the fans screaming in the stands or the guys with the stat books. That method of coaching spurred him to make these changes.
“One of the things we do in the off season is rank our guys one to 70. It doesn’t matter which position, just best football players,” McElwain said. “What you find out, is you might have a jam of your top 20 guys as backups. So you go ahead and find a spot to get your best guys playing.”
To mend the holes in the offensive line, McElwain moved tight end Blake Jones from blocking on the outside to getting down and dirty in the middle of the linemen brawl. But there’s a major tight end position to be filled, so adding linebacker Nolan Peralta and defensive end Brett Jordan will add to a competition at tight end to replace Gillmore. Steven Walker and Jordan White will be battling it out to play under returner Kivon Cartwright.
“We all have different abilities, Nolan is that big blocking tight end, so he’ll fill in for Crockett (Gillmore),” White said. “I’m that hybrid, so I’ll be backing up Kivon. Summer will be big for me because I’m still underrated, so I’m looking forward to it.”
In an effort to replace the irreplaceable Bell and Bibbs, defensive back Jasen Oden traded spots with running back Davon Riddick. Riddick’s tall, lanky frame, combined with his large wing span, means his move to corner makes plenty of sense.
Oden’s more compact, muscular build should give him a greater advantage at back, instead of nickel safety, where he was before. He played all over the field in high school, including running back, so McElwain believes it will be a natural fit.
“I’m taking on a big role, and it’s been a little challenging, but I’m picking up on the plays,” Oden said. “I’m playing offense because coach Mac thinks that’s where I can help the team more, and I‘ve been liking it. I feel like I have the potential to be a starter here.”
For Willie Udofia, he wasn’t getting the productive playing time McElwain knows he is capable of at wide receiver, with the emergence of freshman Rashad Higgins, prompting his move to safety.
The team will showcase some of their talent this Saturday at Dicks Sporting Goods Field at 11:30 a.m. before getting back to work. Their biggest event of spring will be the April 19 spring game out at Hughes Stadium.
Though he has seen a lot of progress from his team, McElwain felt they took a step back in practice 9 p.m. Tuesday night, and plans to push them harder to finish out the season.Collegian Reporter Cali Rastrelli can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @c_rasta5.
Breakout: CSU football depth chart
Jacob Robl/Eric Williams