89 Illini (Part VIII) July 18, 2011
One by one, I’m slowing deleting each 2010 Illini Football win from the DVR. The losses were purged long ago – the wins have been savored over the last 7 months. I’m watching each game one more time before the big delete (I have to make room for the games this fall). Last night, it was the Indiana game. Three quick things about the Indiana game. 1) We played really poorly. Thankfully, Indiana played worse. 2) If it wasn’t for all the interceptions and fumbles, we might have lost that game. 3) Troy Pollard has developed into a solid kickoff return man.
32. Troy Pollard
Troy Pollard has developed into a solid kickoff return man. Anyone watch the Indiana game lately? He had two really great returns. Here’s hoping he does that again, and since we’re putting in requests, here’s hoping he gives us a true second option in the run game. Last year was lots of Mikel, a fair amount of Ford, and a little Pollard. With Mikel off to the Lions, Pollard moves from “a little” to “a fair amount”. In this his 11th season with the Illini, I’d really love to see the Bucket Of Hair finish strong. Like, a few 100 yard games strong.
31. Simon Cvijanovic
Note: All offensive tackles are probably overrated on this list. One guy – possibly Cvijanovic – will be ranked in the top-32 and barely play this year (something that should put his ranking in the 60′s). But here’s the thing: Corey Lewis still isn’t 100%, and might not be until mid-season. Which means a large part of the success of our offense rests on the redshirt freshman that wins the strongside (right) tackle competition – either Heitz or Cvijanovic. Right now, my money is on Heitz, mostly because I think they’re grooming Cvijanovic to learn the weakside tackle position. If I had to guess right now, I’d say our starting tackles this September are Allen and Heitz (and there’s a chance our starting tackles next September are Cvijanovic and Lewis).
30. Houston Bates
RBOBK. Good ol’ R-Bob-K. Houston Bates is a great name for a linebacker, so I hate to change it, but according to Vic Koenning, he’s a Rolling Ball Of Butcher Knives. It might not be as catchy as #Feed5, but look for the #RBOBK hash tag coming soon to a Twitter near you. I think Bates (sorry, RBOBK) is on track to be the starting Will linebacker in 2012. This fall, as a redshirt freshman, he’ll be used situationally – mostly in blitz packages, if I had to guess – as a backup to Jonathan Brown. In 2012 it’s J-Brown’s turn at Mike Linebacker, and I think Bates is the starter at Will. For this fall, at linebacker, I think we’ll have starters and “situation” guys. Ian Thomas starts at MLB, but Brandon Denmark will be used in certain situations. Jonathan Brown starts at WLB, but RBOBK will be used in certain situations. Hopefully like the spring game, where Bates had sacks on three consecutive plays.
29. Ryan Lankford
He had a huge spring. An AJ-Jenkins-in-2010 spring. But I’m still ranking him #29, because both AJ Jenkins and Darius Millines missed the spring with injuries. There were a lot of murmurs on the sideline this spring that Lankford is ready for a breakout year this fall, but I’m hesitant to call that, mostly because Jenkins and Millines weren’t out there. Not saying he won’t have a good year – he’s added some muscle to his skinny frame – but this spring he had everything thrown his way by default; this fall he’s have to share with Jenkins, Millines, Sykes, and others. So I expect a solid year, but I don’t expect the breakout year until 2012.
28. Justin DuVernois
If you polled 100 Illini Football fans, and you asked them the one thing their worried about this fall, the top answer would be – well, the top answer would be “replacing the Big Three”. But the second thing they’d say is “punting”. Anthony Santella has graduated, and 2006 is fresh enough in everyone’s minds that when we say “punting will be OK – we have a scholarship freshman coming in”, everyone thinks of Kyle Yelton in the Rutgers endzone and Dejuan Warren replacing him with the rugby punt. Which is probably unfair to DuVernois, because in all likelihood, he’ll be pretty good. And even if he’s not ready, we have other options like Brad Janitz and even Matt Eller. But DuVernois is up here at #28 because, sight unseen, I think he wins the job. He’s on scholarship for a reason.
When I look at the defensive line, I’m 93% certain which 4 guys will be starting on September 3rd. When I look at the linebackers, I’m 97% certain which three guys will be starting on September 3rd. Cornerbacks, 91% certain. Safeties? 23% certain. Trulon and Sanni? PNY and Hull? One of the freshmen? Unless he moves forward to Sam Linebacker, we can be pretty certain that Trulon Henry will be one of the starters. The other starter might actually be STEVEHULL. He played well last fall up until the ankle injury, and then he played pretty well again in the Texas Bowl. He had another ankle injury this spring (this time from playing basketball), so Rantoul might be the first time he’s truly healthy in a year. There’s a chance he shows up and wins the job.
26. Corey Lewis
If healthy, he’s #13. If injured most of the year, #39. Let’s split the difference and put him here at #26. He was the starting strongside tackle in 2010 right up to the point where he tore his ACL in the 2010 spring game. No worries – 5th year senior Ryan Palmer held down the position for a year, and 2011 becomes Lewis’ breakout year. And then he hurts the knee again in January. The initial talk was that he’d be fully recovered by Rantoul, but now Bob Asmussen is reporting that the coaches are “hopeful he can return by the Big Ten season”. If that’s the case, when will he truly be game ready? He hasn’t played football in a year and a half. How ready will he be if his first game is Ohio State at home? Hopefully, the answer is “very ready”, because we need an upperclassman to balance out the two redshirt freshmen.
25. Justin Green
When it comes to our cornerbacks, I feel like Ohio State. No, not tattoos and lying – I mean depth. The reason Ohio State won 6 Big Ten titles in a row was only partly “they cheated like crazy”. They also had at least 3 good players at every position. You need 2 solid safeties to be successful – Ohio State always had 3. Everyone needs a solid set of defensive tackles – Ohio State has always had 3 or 4. This year, I think we have “Ohio State depth” at cornerback. Tavon Wilson and Terry Hawthorne start, with Justin Green as the backup. If there’s a better third cornerback in the Big Ten, I’d like to see him. In his first year every playing the position last fall, he was pretty solid. He still has technique to learn (like his failed adjustment to the bomb at Penn State), but I think he’ll make a leap this fall and contend for All Big Ten honors in 2012.