Patrick Taylor Jr. returns for his senior season after amassing 1,122 yards on the ground in 2018 to give him 2,534 career rushing yards, good for 4th on the Tigers' All-Time list. Taylor is expected to carry the bulk of the load for the offense this season as the Tigers will attempt to fill the void left by the departures of Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard to the NFL.
You can also expect to see a heavy dose of Kenny Gainwell (R-FR) who saw action in 4 games last season before redshirting and sprinted for 91 yards on just 4 carries, highlighted by a 72-yard scamper for a TD. Gainwell and Treveon Samuel, a senior transfer from Troy who previously played 3 seasons at Louisville, are expected to play a Pollard-like role in the offense.
Adding depth will be Kylan Watkins, a redshirt sophomore from Whitehaven was the Offensive Player of the Year for the scout team last season and has had a good camp according to reports. Timothy Taylor and Marquavious Weaver both got a sprinkle of carries last season, while freshman Rodrigues Clark has had intriguing moments and is listed even with Taylor as the 3rd back on the team’s depth chart.
Damonte Coxie, a 6'3 big play threat and 2nd Team All-Conference performer, returns as the Tigers leading receiver and favorite target of quarterback Brady White. Coxie reeled in 72 catches for 1174 yards and 7 TD's last season as a sophomore, while White threw for 3296 yards and 26 TD's compared to 9 interceptions. White struggled with the deep ball last year, as well as avoiding sacks, but reports out of camp have been that he looks more comfortable with the team this season and has shown improved arm strength.
The speedy Pop Williams, returning All-AAC First Teamer as a punt returner, will join Coxie as a starting receiver in 2019. Williams caught 33 passes for 304 yards and a score last season in addition to handling return duties. Gainwell and Samuel from the RB group will be a huge factor in the passing game as well, while senior receivers Kedarian Jones and Antonio Gibson both saw limited action in all 14 games last season and will be expected to take a step forward in 2019. Track standout Calvin Austin III is also expected to get an opportunity to contribute.
Senior tight ends, Joey Magnifico and Sean Dykes, who combined for 553 yards and 7 TD's last season return for their final year. I hope to see them more involved in the passing game this year, as they are both matchup problems for opposing defenses but seemed underutilized in 2018.
The offensive line will see several new starters for the first season in a while, as the Tigers lost 3 long-term contributors to graduation. Senior Dustin Woodard, a 1st Team All-AAC member in 2018 will make the 39th start of his career against Ole Miss, however he will be starting at center in 2019 opposed to right guard in 2018 and left guard in 2017. Dylan Parham (R-So) returns at left guard after starting all 14 games last season.
Obinna Eze (R-So) headlines the list of new starters, as the former 4-star recruit has spent his first two seasons with the Tigers honing his skills behind more experienced players. The 6'8 300-pounder will make his starting debut at left tackle.
Joining Eze as first year starters will be senior Scottie Dill at right tackle and Manuel Orona-Lopez at right guard. Dill, from Briarcrest Christian School, saw heavy action in a couple of games in 2018, while Orona-Lopez (R-So) saw limited action in 3 games before redshirting as a junior college transfer last season.
The Tigers have depth with good size behind the starters, but most of the guys have seen little to no action at the FBS level. As always, health will play a huge factor on the ceiling of this unit.
The defensive line appears to be the deepest it's been in years, if not in the history of the program. Bryce Huff (Sr) returns as a starting defensive end after an All-AAC 2nd Team selection in 2018, which saw him lead the Tigers with 19 Tackles For Loss and 9.5 sacks.
Fellow senior Jonathon Wilson joins Huff as a returning starter and was second on the team behind his classmate with 9.5 TFL's and 6 sacks. Juniors O'Bryan Goodson (8.5 TFL's) and JoJo Dorceus (6 sacks) will round out the starting unit up front.
John Tate is the most experienced of the 2nd unit, as he saw action in every game last season and racked up 4 sacks of his own. Desmond Hawkins will provide depth at tackle along with Tate, while Braylon Brown and Morris Joseph are expected to be in the mix up front as well.
Freshmen Jalil Clemons and Cole Mashburn have impressed the staff throughout the fall, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them contributing throughout the season on the edge. “Both are two guys who are playing for us this year, they are going to be, if they continue to progress, are going to be great players here. They’re both going to play.”-Mike Norvell via The Daily Memphian
Senior leader Austin Hall returns in the middle of the Tigers linebacking corp and will be joined by fellow returning starter JJ Russell (Jr). Hall was 5th on the team in tackles (64) last season and 3rd in TFL's (9) and has started 38 games as a Tiger while amassing 204 career tackles. Russell finished 2018 with 8.5 TFL's and has forced 3 fumbles so far in his time in Memphis.
Thomas Pickens (R-Jr) will start at the 3rd LB position, known as the STUD. Pickens, an MUS product, has played sparingly in the past 2 season after redshirting as a freshman but has an interception to his name and also had a pick six in this year's Spring Game.
Tim Hart (R-Jr), another MUS product who finished with 60 tackles last season, is listed as the backup to Russell but expect him to see plenty of meaningful snaps this season as he has been a contributor each of the past 2 seasons. Josh Perry has moved from the secondary to linebacker after finishing 4th on the team in tackles in 2018 and will see plenty of time behind Pickens, while Zay Cullens will see some time behind Hall.
TJ Carter, the 2017 AAC Rookie of the Year and Freshmen All-American, returns to continue to lock down opposing receivers. Carter had 2 interceptions in his sophomore campaign, following the 5 he recorded as a freshman. His numbers may not rise too much, as opposing QB's tend to shy away from Carter Island.
In what came as somewhat of a surprise with the release of the depth chart, senior transfer (Arizona State) Joey Bryant will start opposite of Carter. Bryant started 3 games for ASU in 2017 before missing the rest of the season with an ACL injury and sitting out all of 2018. He was also a member of the ASU Track & Field team and was a member of the jumps group.
La'Andre Thomas returns as the starting free safety after an injury shortened what was expected to be a breakout season last year. Sanchez Blake, a known big hitter, will start at the other safety position after seeing action in every game last year. Tyrez Lindsey, the team's 2nd leading tackler in 2018 is listed as Blake's backup headed into the season, but provides excellent depth.