As you may have surmised by now, creativity is not really my thing. That's why I stole Scipio's Big Board idea early on in the year (my first post and my revised post heading into conference play) and while I'll be stealing Phenomenal Smith's Redshirt Evaluation idea on this day. In fact, I'll even paraphrase (plagiarize) his thoughts on how convenient it is to have hindsight when evaluating whether or not the staff made the right decision in burning the red shirts they did. The following is a list of the true freshman that played this year and my thoughts about the decision to play them.
Daymond Patterson. Despite a roller coaster of a year, Daymond was the clear no-brainer of this class. He started off with a bang returning a punt for a TD in his first game and followed that up with 2 TDS and 100+ yards receiving in his second. From there, he really dropped off as a receiver and was soon relegated to just returning punts. However, where he made his biggest impact was switching to corner late in the year and surprisingly becoming a damn good one. He gives up size to every guy he faces, but with his speed and hips he rarely finds himself out of position and was barely even thrown at (a very good sign) in the last few games. I'm not sure what the plan is going forward, but Mangino seems to have found something with him at corner.
Tim Biere. After all the pre-season talk of Dedeaux, Steward and even recruits Hawkinson & Plato, it was Biere who seized control of the starting TE spot and he never let go. He wasn't used much as a receiver (6 catches for 65 yards), but he never disappointed when called upon there and demonstrated his real strength as a great blocker. As our tackles get better, it won't be as necessary to leave him in to help and I anticipate he'll become even more of a pass catching threat as the years go on.
Darius Parish. An absolute beast as a true freshman Parish saw plenty of meaningful snaps and gave us much needed depth at DT – a place where we had plenty of injuries this season. He didn't really have the stamina or motor to play more than a couple plays at a time, but when he was in there he did a great job holding his gap and clogging the middle. With improved conditioning and a quicker get-off, he could really develop into a great tackle for us in the near future.
Ben Leuken. He was on the two-deep all season, so that's plenty of reason right there despite us never actually needing him due to injury. But more than that, I firmly believe Mangino wants him to assume the starting RT position next year so Spikes can move to left and Hatch can move inside. Operating under this assumption, it made plenty of sense to get him some time there and see how he handled Big XII game speed. His series were always limited, so we don't know if he could bring that same energy for a whole game, but judging from what I saw he didn't disappoint as a true freshman.
Corrigan Powell. After seeing him play plenty early and not at all late, you might consider this one a mistake. And really, I can't argue that. He never looked ready for this level with any sort of consistency. But considering the troubles we were having against the pass, I understand why the staff wanted to give him a shot. The same was true of Harris a year ago and that worked out well, so while this didn't yield the same result, I understand the decision.
Willie O'Quinn & Greg Brown. I'm lumping them in together, because I'm really not sure if Greg Brown ever played. For some reason O'Quinn is absent from the participation reports, but I noticed him on most special teams units throughout the last half of the season. Brown is actually listed and credited with a couple tackles. Now seems like a good time to note that both are #27, so I've got to think the stat guys messed this one up. We'll operate under that assumption. And since O'Quinn's use directly coincided with the special teams realignment (and improvement) I'm fine with his use. He filled his lane in kick coverage and was a gunner on punts, so the coaches seems to like what he gives us. I guess my analysis with Brown would be similar, though I never remember noticing him on the field.
Josh Richardson. After seeing the success of Holt as an undersized LB, Richardson (6'4" 200) seems like a guy with potential. And given that he's from Ohio, I like to think we must have seen something we liked to even have us recruiting that part of the country. Yet we burned his RS to get him on the field against Colorado & Texas, games 6 & 11, respectively. Again, I'm not sure what the plans are for him but that doesn't seem like nearly enough action to warrant the loss of a season.
I had planned to have Steven Johnson and Rod Harris, Jr. in this section as both played early on, but never saw the field after South Florida. However, a much more informed friend, Denverjayhawk of Rock Chalk Talk, recently told me that both had their red shirts in tact. With that knowledge, it looks like we used seven (or eight) true freshmen this season. Three were huge contributors. Three (or four) were used with enough consistency to be considered worthwhile. And only one seems truly questionable at this point, given what I know. That's a pretty good use of our freshman and knowing who we saved, along with those set to join the roster next year, I think we're well aligned for the near future.
One thing that will be interesting to watch is who we use next year. On one hand, the class looks to be far better than any other Mangino has brought in. However, the talent in front of them is also probably better than any other he has had. There are a couple places of need that I expect to see new guys contribute, but there's a chance we could be developing some already good players for a year without ever having to throw them into the fire. That would be a great sign of not only where the program is now, but also how it will look going forward.