During a post-practice media availability on Friday, head coach Tom Herman provided insight into how the depth chart is shaping up as players return from injuries and the coaching attempts to replace departed standouts Connor Williams and DeShon Elliott.
One of the biggest competitions, however, is still going on at quarterback, where sophomore Shane Buechele starts practice with the first team for the first series, then gives way to freshman Sam Ehlinger for the second series with the first team. Herman described the battle as even and expects both players to see time in the Texas Bowl.
In the last two games of the regular season, that meant only limited playing time for Buechele, even though he started against West Virginia, but Ehlinger failed to secure the job with his fourth-quarter meltdown against Texas Tech.
Along the offensive line, junior left guard Patrick Vahe is back practicing in full pads after suffering a sprained MCL against the Mountaineers, while junior Elijah Rodriguez is “doing great” after missing the entire regular season following a high ankle sprain that required surgery.
When Herman last provided an update on Rodriguez, he was playing inside at guard, but will likely be at tackle in the bowl game if he earns a starting spot. Whether that would be at right tackle or left tackles remains to be seen.
Other than how well Rodriguez performs, Herman’s choices at tackle will come down to his comfort level with sophomore Denzel Okafor playing on the left side and freshman Derek Kerstetter playing on the right side.
On the defensive side of the ball, junior P.J. Locke III is back playing at safety after returning from an ankle injury that has kept him out of the last four games. Locke started his career at safety before moving to nickel back as a sophomore. So he’s currently the replacement for Elliott next to sophomore Brandon Jones and could remain there next season.
Locke hasn’t shown the expected improvement this season and doesn’t have the ball-hawking ability of Elliott, so
With Locke at safety, senior Antwuan Davis has continued to play at nickel back, where he’s performed well since Locke’s injury, while senior Jason Hall is still in his role as a box safety/dime linebacker.