Tim Beckman hopes that his focus on competition within his team will lead to depth. With the implementation of the spread offense it’s vital that Beckman finds a number of guys for Nathan Scheelhaase to trust from down to down. Guys like Miles Osei and Terry Hawthorne (known for his defense) are two players we may see a bit more of on offense. They will also need to see production from Darius Millines, Spencer Harris and tight end Jon Davis.
Unfortunately, linebacker Henry Dickinson is out for the season with a leg fracture, which will affect the depth of the roster. The 6’4”, 215-pound sophomore looked to be a possible starter for the Illini this season.
The Illini add some depth to next season’s roster by officially adding transfer lineman Ryan Klachko. Klachko was one of the top 15 offensive linemen in the country coming out of high school and will help bolster the offensive line for the Illini next season. Klachko leaves Nebraska after one redshirt freshman season and will have three years of eligibility at Illinois.
On defense, increasing depth will help keep guys fresh, giving the team a better chance to match last seasons seventh overall ranking. The pass defense ranked third in the nation so it seems a little overkill that the coaching staff would choose to use Hawthorne on both sides of the ball. He is the team’s best cornerback, and having him step in for a few snaps at receiver could greatly decrease his stamina, not to mention the fact that it looks like he will be helping on special teams as well.
Special teams is a unit that Beckman has recently renamed. The Illini ranked 120th in kickoff returns last season, landing them last in the nation, under Ron Zook. They averaged 15.7 yards per return and they hope that by changing the unit’s name to Bravo Company, things might change. In punt returns, they ranked 118th with 2.9 yards per return and hope to improve those numbers by changing the unit’s name to Recon. Illinois’ opponents averaged nearly seven yards more per kickoff return and four yards more per punt return.
The name swap for the special teams doesn’t seem nearly as important as special teams coordinator Tim Salem, who brought the team at Central Florida a No. 3 ranking in the nation last season with 26.9 yards per return. Salem is a huge addition for the Illini and will prove a critical piece in the team’s success.
The changes taking place on the Illinois football team since last season are apparent to anyone who has been following the team. The important thing is that these changes are starting to make a difference on the practice field, in the locker room, and in the players’ minds.
Now, Illini hopefuls will watch the first game covering their eyes and peeking through until that first big play is made. If the Illini can get off to a hot start, there is no telling what might happen. With seven returning starters on defense they hope to emulate last year’s top 10 defensive finish and significantly improve upon their offensive output. If the Illini can take care of their non-conference schedule, the Big Ten will eagerly await their presence. Wake me up when September ends and we will see.
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