football Edit

Lions Plan to Maximize Redshirt Rule Again in 2019

James Franklin’s preseason plans for the newest members of his football team last season, the Class of 2018, were the same as previous years leading into the first game.

Designating players into green, yellow, and red categories, the surefire participants would be a go from the season’s onset, the yellow group would be given a wait-and-see approach, and the reds most likely needed a full-year of development before they’d be ready to see game action. The green group included the likes of tight end Pat Freiermuth, running back Ricky Slade, linebackers Jesse Luketa and Micah Parsons, kickers Jake Pinegar and Rafael Checa, and defensive tackle P.J. Mustipher.

However, a new wrinkle to the NCAA’s rules allowed for a fourth, as-yet-unseen possibility.

Following an early season injury, WR Justin Shorter was able to play late in the season and preserve his eligibility due to the new redshirt rule.
Following an early season injury, WR Justin Shorter was able to play late in the season and preserve his eligibility due to the new redshirt rule. (Steve Manuel/Blue White Illustrated)

Allowing players to hold onto their redshirts while participating in up to four games through the course of the season, Franklin and his staff entered the year understanding that the yellow and even the red groupings could see game action, depending on the circumstances.

“I think our plan was good early on,” said Franklin, in Chicago for the Big Ten Media Days on Friday. “We were talking about, you know, playing the first three games and then saving a game at the end for a bowl game or things like that.

We kind of revised that, and we were more, two games early to see who's ready and who's not. We went with two because you'd like to be able to have a little bit of flexibility for injuries and things like that.”

Asked by’s Greg Pickel as to whether or not that approach would change for the upcoming season, the first opportunity to amend that plan coming off its initial results, Franklin acknowledged that the slight evolution to the staff’s thinking would remain in place for the upcoming season.

“I think two is probably the number we're going to stay at,” said Franklin. “Try to play as many guys as we possibly can in two first-half of the year games, and then save two for late; for injuries, for bowl games, or whatever it may be.”

Breaking down the true freshman class from the 2018 season, seven scholarship players burned their redshirts, eventually also including Jahan Dotson in addition to the original grouping. Another eight played within the framework of four appearances, maintaining their redshirts in the process. And finally, six more including quarterback Will Levis, offensive linemen Bryce Effner, defensive tackles Judge Culpepper and Aeneas Hawkins, linebacker Charlie Katshir, and defensive back Isaiah Humphries did not see any game action.

Within the group that played, but kept its freshman eligibility, results and approaches varied.

Justin Shorter, Rasheed Walker, Jayson Oweh and Trent Gordon were the only players to use up all four games. All four made their debuts against Kent State in the third game of the season. Only Oweh appeared again before November, seeing action in Penn State’s blowout win at Illinois the next week. Shorter played against Wisconsin on Nov. 10, and all four played in the win at Rutgers the following week. Walker, Oweh and Gordon, then, saw action in the regular-season finale against Maryland. And, finally, Shorter, Walker, and Gordon each played in the Citrus Bowl loss to Kentucky on New Year’s Day.

Of the four other players to see action while maintaining their redshirts, Daniel George appeared in three games against Kent State, at Indiana, and against Maryland, Nick Tarburton played in Week One against Appalachian State and the next week at Pittsburgh, then wouldn’t play again the rest of the year. Zack Kuntz played only in Penn State’s win against Kent State, and Juice Scruggs’ first and last appearance of the year came against the Terrapins in the final week of the regular season.

“I think that model worked out really well and evolved for us over time,” said Franklin, reserving flexibility moving forward. “Obviously, based on injuries, based on things like that, it may play out differently. It may be three and one for one guy based on where we're at in depth with that position. It may be two and two. But overall, I would say that's our philosophy, two games early, and then other two games late for injuries or bowl games.”