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Departures leave big shoes to fill

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Any FCS program that is losing a player to the NFL Draft has an especially glaring hole to fill next season.

And then you watch Richmond's Martin Parker go out and win defensive MVP honors at the East-West Shrine Game, see Ben Ijalana's continual rise up draft boards, or realize Taiwan Jones' talent could land him in, say, the third round as a junior, and you can't help but feel relieved you're not a player stepping into their shoes next season.

Some players embrace those opportunities even if they appear to be nearly impossible. Hey, somebody had to replace two-time Walter Payton Award winner Armanti Edwards at Appalachian State this past season, and DeAndre Presley didn't do too bad.

Following is a look at how the players who appear to be NFL Draft choices in April might be replaced come September:

Southern Illinois' James McFadden expects to step into a starting role at cornerback.
Ben Ijalana, LT, Villanova - At 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, Chidozie Ekweozor has the size of the expected top selection from the NFL level, but no player will be able to match Ijalana's dominance. The junior-to-be Ekweozor is agile for his size with good strength and skills, and would switch over from the starting right tackle to replace Ijalana at left tackle. The move is made more likely by the fact the Wildcats won't have many offensive linemen returning next season.

Taiwan Jones, RB, Eastern Washington - They're still thinking "what if" Jones didn't declare for the 2011 NFL Draft as a junior and was returning for the newly crowned FCS champions. But Jones' injury in the playoffs allowed 5-9, 175-pound Mario Brown to start as a true freshman in the national semifinals (rushing for 104 yards on 26 carries against Villanova) and the championship game (five receptions for 57 yards). He won't be as explosive as Jones, but Brown will be productive next season. The bigger Darriell Beaumonte, who earned All-Big Sky Conference first-team honors for special teams, also will battle for time in the backfield.

Will Rackley, LT, Lehigh - With plenty of experience at guard and center, where he started all 11 games as a sophomore, Keith Schauder appears to be the best candidate to slide into Rackley's starting spot. The 6-4, 290-pound senior-to-be is a particularly strong pass blocker who knows the Mountain Hawks' offense.

Martin Parker, DT, and Justin Rogers, CB, Richmond - With Corey Jackson returning on the interior, Parker's starting spot in the 4-3 figures to be manned by 6-4, 245-pound Jacob Pierce or 6-2, 270-pound Evan Kelly, who redshirted as a freshman this past season after he suffered a season-ending foot injury at Virginia in the opener. Pierce had 14 tackles and five quarterback hurries as a redshirt freshman this past season. In the secondary, 5-8, 192-pound Darryl Hamilton could move from safety to Rogers' cornerback spot, with Georgia Tech transfer Cooper Taylor stepping into Hamilton's spot at safety.

Korey Lindsey, CB, Southern Illinois - James McFadden missed the 2010 season with a knee injury, but if the 5-10, 180-pounder returns healthy as a redshirt junior he could become a lockdown cornerback. The athletic McFadden started both of the Salukis' playoff games in 2009, but has only two remaining seasons because he was a redshirt as a true freshman in 2008.

Pat Devlin, QB, Delaware - The inside track for Devlin's starting job belongs to Trevor Sasek, who as a redshirt freshman started the Blue Hens' win over Duquesne and then replaced Devlin when he was knocked out early by James Madison, and managed a solid effort in the 13-10 victory. Sasek has significant size (6-6, 214 pounds) and a strong arm, but needs to improve in his decision-making, which comes through experience. There's no shortage of tall quarterbacks at UD. Sasek, who was 20-for-32 for 199 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and rushed for two touchdowns, will face competition in the spring from 6-4 junior-to-be Tim Donnelly and 6-5 redshirt freshman Justin Burns.

Delaware quarterback Trevor Sasek played well as a redshirt freshman.
Kenrick Ellis, DT, Hampton - The dominating Ellis was backed by a senior, and the Pirates will be hard-pressed to get any newcomer to get close to his production. Coach Donovan Rose is restocking the defensive line with transfers and incoming freshmen.

Mark Legree, S, and D.J. Smith, LB, Appalachian State - Instinctive cornerback Troy Sanders, a 6-foot, 180-pound sophomore, moved to safety when Legree missed the Mountaineers' regular-season finale at Florida, but 6-foot, 200- pound Michael Frazier, who was a "bandit" linebacker as a freshman in 2009, was Legree's listed backup this season. The spot might be sorted out in spring practices. Linebackers Jeremy Kimbrough, Justin Wray and Brandon Grier all return with starter's experience and will try to combine on production similar to Smith's.

David Arkin, LT, Missouri State - The Bears don't have an heir apparent for Arkin at this point of the offseason. They will return only one starter on the offensive line. What happens next week on national signing day (Wednesday) is pivotal for the 2011 season.

Mike Person, LT, Montana State - Conrad Burbank lined up next to Person as the Bobcats' left guard, so the 6-4, 280-pound senior-to-be won't have to move far to get into Person's spot. Tackle is actually Burbank's natural position. If and when the change happens, Tyler Thomas would likely replace Conrad at guard.

Julius Thomas, TE, Portland State - The fast-rising Thomas is being pushed in the Antonio Gates mold as he played four seasons of basketball at Portland State before walking on to the football team last year, and then earning All- Big Sky first-team honors. The Vikings probably won't be able to start over again and get the same results. Gage Loftin was signed from Snow College and might have an edge over inexperienced Kyle McMillin, the lone returnee at tight end.

Kevin Hughes, LT, Southeastern Louisiana - Gasten Gabriel saw his first action late in the season and could replace Hughes as a redshirt sophomore. The 6-5, 280-pounder has good athleticism and terrific potential.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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