Wednesday Mailbag (Part III) August 17, 2011
I am really enjoying your tweets/updates on the Illini and would like to know as much as possible on Jason Ford. How does he look so far, will he get the bulk of the carries? Predictions? Thoughts?
Will he get the bulk of the carries? Absolutely. He knows the offense the best, he has the most experience, and he’s in much better shape than he was at the end of the season last year. For better or worse, he’s The Guy.
It’s fun to watch the freshmen – Donovonn Young has great balance (have I mentioned that before?) and Josh Ferguson has great burst. But when I picture third and 2 from the Penn State 44, Jason Ford gets the ball every single time.
I think we’ll use him like we used Leshoure last year – a lot in the first quarter, sub in for him a lot as the game goes on, and then pound pound pound with Ford in the fourth quarter. He’s our go-to guy, and I think we’ll try to keep him fresh for that end of the game 13 play, 67 yard drive to run out the clock.
Predictions on yards for the season? I’ll say 1,089.
Any chance Brandon Clear gets in the mix? Especially in goal line situations?
I think so. The Clemson fan I talked to said his hands were always the issue. And the first time I saw a pass go his way in Rantoul, he dropped it.
But then yesterday, during a blitz drill where they put a blue jersey on freshman QB Chase Haslett and told the defense they could hit him, Haslett threw a 30 yard jump ball to Clear as the blitz closed in. Clear went up over the cornerback and caught it, drawing a huge ovation from the entire offense. It was a great catch.
So he has the size – could he be that guy we throw bombs and corner fades to? Maybe. But Jenkins and the three sophomores will be a tough rotation to crack.
My biggest concern is at DT, but the biggest question mark in my mind is at safety. Can Ramsey actually play the position? Green? PNY? We keep moving corners to safety and I wonder about their ability to (a) hit the way a good safety has to hit; and (b) make the difficult reads in the split second allowed. Hull had one (?) start at FS last year and a lot of snaps at the position. PNY subbed in at nickle. After that…? In 2008 and 2009 safety was a major problem for Illinois. Harrison, Mitchell and Sanders all used up their eligibility and we spent two years trying to replace them. None of those guys were particularly athletic, but they were all physical and knew how to play the position. Are we going to struggle again this year?
First off, I think Green is only lined up in warm-ups with the safeties because he’s essentially the third starter at cornerback. Much like I list 3 starting wide receivers on my depth chart (as well as listing starters at tight end and fullback), I should probably list 3 starters at corner. Because that’s essentially what Green provides – another starter. I think we’ll see a fair amount of “dime” defense this fall – 3 down linemen, 2 linebackers, a Sam linebacker (stinger safety!), 3 corners, and 2 safeties.
But to your overall point, yes, it’s a concern. Your question has made me think about it quite a bit, to be honest. With Trulon moving over to Sam and Wilson going back to corner, we essentially have zero safeties with starting experience. Sanni played a fair bit in 2009, and both Hull and PNY saw a lot of action last fall. But as you mentioned, they only have 1 game started between them. And that was kind of a fluke – Hull technically started the Texas Bowl, but that was because Trulon broke a team rule.
OK, as I think about this some more, I’m starting to get more and more concerned. If Michigan State is going into the season with two brand new players at safety, I see it as a weakness. If I see that Arizona State has a redshirt sophomore with 1 game starting experience and a medical-redshirt junior with zero games started, I’m licking my chops.
The corners will be solid, and I think Trulon will excel at Sam. But if I’m honest, safety is a scary unknown.
Haven’t heard much on Anthony Williams. I was excited about his size and he was getting some hype in the spring IIRC, but haven’t heard anything in camp. How does he look?
I mentioned it earlier and I’ll say it again – after watching practice last night and this morning, I’m thinking there’s a gap developing between our 4th and 5th receivers. The top four are clearly Jenkins, Millines, Lankford, and Harris. And then there are literally 8 guys in contention for that 5th spot. Seriously – eight guys with a punchers chance at being our 5th receiver: Clear, Willliams, Sykes, Kumerow, Frysinger, Rock, Knight, and Whitlow once he comes back. Maybe 9 – walk-on Peter Bonahoom seems to get in the rotation a lot.
As for Williams, I’ve seen him do some nice things. And he has the look of a Walter Young-ish receiver – tall, big hands, long arms. But beyond those top 4, nobody is sticking out just yet. At least not to me.
DT is the biggest position concern by a long shot. What will the rotation look like? What does each player do well? What is the strategy to have depth next year?
I think the rotation is pretty simple. Lots and lots and lots of Akeem Spence. And then a little more Akeem Spence. Craig Wilson starts at the nose, but I think he rotates out in nickel and dime packages. Third guy right now is probably Wisdom Onyegbule, who, according to Bob Asmussen, received a scholarship for this his final season. Wisdom played a decent amount last year – he recovered a fumble in the SIU game and made a few plays in the Texas Bowl. So I think he can be serviceable as a backup.
After that, it’s the redshirt freshmen, Teitsma and Howe. And with that I go back to the “other Big Ten teams” test. If Iowa’s primary backups at defensive tackle were two redshirt freshmen, I’d feel really good about wearing them down with the run game. So if our guys are still learning on the job, you have to say that we might wear down against a run-heavy team.
The other guy working at DT (besides a few freshman walk-ons) is freshman Chris O’Connor. He was listed as a DE on recruiting sites, but he’s been working with the DT’s all week. I’m pretty sure he redshirts and bulks up, but there’s a chance we would play him this year for experience because he’ll have to be in the rotation next fall after Wilson and Onyegbule leave.
Wow, this one is ending on a downer. I need to post this and start another one so I can talk about some good things.