89 Illini (Part IX) July 22, 2011
I’m in mourning this evening. What I thought was a giant opportunity back in May was nothing but a blip on the radar. If you haven’t heard, Ohio State is more than likely getting off without so much as a single lost scholarship. Jim Tressel acted alone – a rouge coach avoiding the compliance department like he’s an in-state blue-chpper avoiding the Illini – and mighty OSU had no choice but to get rid of this scoundrel to maintain their impeccable standards. 8 months ago, it was the University President saying “I just hope Jim Tressel doesn’t fire me”. Now, they’re claiming that when Tressel told NCAA investigators that he tipped off the compliance department to the players getting improper benefits, he was lying. They never knew a thing.
And because of that two-step, it might be several more years before I see The Great Rise Of Illini Football.
I need a moment.
Time to cheer myself up with more player breakdowns.
24. Darius Millines
If his foot wasn’t in a cast, I believe every accolade heaped on Ryan Lankford this spring would have been directed towards Millines. That’s not fair – Lankford did have a great spring. I just think Millines is still ahead of him at this point, but he just couldn’t show it this spring. I place him in front of Lankford for one reason: blocking. I think he was the best blocking receiver on the team last year, and for a team that will run a lot (I haven’t mentioned that recently – I still think we’ll run A LOT), that will be very important. And he’s no slouch in the receiving game either – anyone who was at the Rantoul Scrimmage last summer knows the kid can play.
23. Supo Sanni
For the last three years, when people talked about the “physical specimen” on the team, they talked about Martez Wilson. With Martez off to New Orleans, I’d say our new physical specimen is Supo Sanni. He doesn’t have Martez’s measurables, but the kid is built to be a safety. A strong safety. Maybe so strong that he could eventually move forward to Sam Linebacker. There’s no way to know if he’s 100% after his injury, so we’ll have to see what gives in Rantoul. But I’m hopeful he takes the strong safety job and runs with it.
22. Michael Heitz
First offensive snap against Arkansas State, I think Heitz is the starting right tackle. Sorry, strongside tackle. I’ll never get that right. Corey Lewis probably isn’t fully recovered yet, and Simon Cvijanovic is, in my opinion, a tiny bit behind, so Heitz is the guy. He looks the part – the part of every Wisconsin lineman the last 20 years, truth be told. Big strong farm boy with surprisingly quick feet. Here’s hoping he’s ready for the challenge because, well, the success of our entire offense might rest on finding a serviceable right tackle. Serviceable strongside tackle.
21. Fred Sykes
This ranking is wishcasting a little bit. The sophomore trio of receivers (Millines, Lankford, and Harris) might join AJ as the 4 main targets for Nathan, and Sykes might get shuffled down the deck. But he made a few plays this spring that made me think he could be a reasonable facsimile of Jarred Fayson. Not the athleticism and the speed, but the underneath, 9 yards when we need 8, possession receiver that Fayson became in his final year with the Illini. Seniors sometimes step up their game, and I’m thinking we’ll be pleasantly surprised by the player who I used to only refer to as “Alligator Arms”. I was so young and dumb back then.
So was he (OH.SNAP.)
20. Craig Wilson
We need Craig Wilson to be a space eater at defensive tackle like Ohio State needs Jim Tressel to stay quiet. I don’t like that one – let me try again. We need Craig Wilson to be a space eater at defensive tackle like Pat Fitzgerald needs a soft schedule to appear great. Still not there yet. We need Craig Wilson to be a space eater at defensive tackle like Ron Swanson needs Mulligan’s Steakhouse to re-open. I’ll go with that one.
We need Craig Wilson to be a space eater at defensive tackle. Because with the two redshirt freshmen probably not ready yet and possibly all three true freshman not making it to Champaign, he’s all we got. Send it in, big fella.
19. Ashante Williams
I make voice notes to myself when I’m watching practice. (As an aside, sometimes, while I’m doing this, I become self aware. I’m just a blogger. I have a job and a wife and kids and a mortgage. But here I am, in Champaign, at 7:30 in the morning, taking a vacation day from work, saying things like “Ashante Williams hesitated on a pass to the tight end and got burned”, and I’ll think “wait, why am I talking into my phone at 7:30 in the morning in Champaign?”)
Anyway, while saying those exact words into the voice recorder in my phone this spring, they sent Ashante on a blitz the very next play and he leveled Miles Osei (causing a fumble that the defense recovered for a touchdown). Took a perfect angle, ducked the block, and leveled the QB. On that very play, my Ashante Williams replacing Nate Bussey concerns dropped from level red to level orange. If he can continue to make plays like that in Rantoul, I might be all the way at level blue come Arkansas State.
18. Jack Cornell
I have a beard. So if you’ve pictured me as some skinny geek in his mom’s basement, I’m sorry to disappoint. Beautiful, flowing reddish beard that’s part Arn Anderson, part Yukon Cornelius. I tell you this because Jack Cornell also has a great beard. My hope for Rantoul is that I be granted a one-on-one interview with Mr. Cornell where we can discuss beards, football, and beards.
Cornell, a part-time starter last year, will move into a full-time starter role in his final season. He’ll start on the right (strong) side at guard. While I’m worried about what happens at right tackle, I’m not worried about right guard. I think he’ll have a very solid season. (Of course he will – he has a beard.)
17. Michael Buchanan
I’m not sure what I wrote about Buchanan last year when going through the 88 Illini, but I’d bet it was something like “how can someone that skinny rush the quarterback?” Because, really, it’s kind of amazing the leverage he gets with an offensive tackle that outweighs him by 70 pounds. I really think Buchanan can do big things the next two years as he gets more and more familiar with Vic Koenning’s bandit position. In fact, I’ll call it right now. Buchanan will have a game this fall where he makes a play in all three phases of his position: A sack, a tackle for loss on a run play, and an interception when he drops into coverage.
OK, I’m all excited now. Maybe the Great Rise Of Illini Football will be sooner rather than later.