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Grading the Illini by position after Spring Practice




How does the Illini grade out by position after Spring Practice?

Head coach Bret Bielema and his staff have to be excited about their chances in the final season of the Big Ten West. The Illini have talent, and they have depth on their roster. Many of its players raised their stock after spring, and there are some exciting competitions for playing time on offense and defense. There are some unknowns at receiver and defensive back, but there is also potential. Here’s a look at how each position group graded out.


Quarterback, B

Luke Altmyer is the primary reason the quarterback grade is what it is. Altmyer has all the tools to be an All-Big Ten-level quarterback. His arm talent allows the Illini to push the football down the field. Not only are they set at starting quarterback, but their backup quarterback situation is solid. Barry Lunney, Jr. and the staff must choose between Donovan Leary and John Paddock, but those are two reliable options behind Altmyer.

Running Back, C

Running back gets a C because there are so many unknowns. It is not a stretch to understand why this position would be downgraded after losing a player the caliber of Chase Brown. Jordan Anderson took full advantage of his reps during spring and looked to move up the depth chart this summer. Veterans Reggie Love and Josh McCray return, but there is a reason that Chase Brown passed them on the depth chart as well. Expect a running back by committee this fall unless one of the younger backs, like Anderson or freshman Kaden Feagin, emerges this summer.

Wide Receiver/Tight End, C+

Perhaps there is no position group with more potential than the wide receiver room at Illinois. Much of this has to do with quarterback Luke Altmyer. There should be more big plays with a strong-armed quarterback at the helm of the defense. A quarterback that can get the ball down the field should result in more big plays, right? The Illini return three of its four leading receivers from last year, including leading receiver Isaiah Williams. The Illini have some young receivers that can add some big play ability to the offense. Williams could have a big year if he gets more opportunities to operate in space.

Offensive line, A

The offensive line is the strength of the offense this season. The benefit of a strong o-line is its ability to cover weaknesses on other parts of the defense. Good offensive lines can give a running back an extra yard or two per rush attempt or an extra second for receivers to get open, which can mean all the difference in the world. Alex Pihlstrom and Alex Palczewski are the only two significant losses on the line. Julian Pearl and Josh Gesky should be fine bookend tackles. There is a lot of talent on the interior, with Isiah Adams, Zy Chrisler, and transfer Dezmond Shuster competing for playing time at guard. Although you don’t want to stereotype anyone, it is a safe bet that anyone with the last name Kreutz knows how to play center.


Defensive Line, A

Much like the offensive line looks to be the strength of the offense, the defensive line looks to be the defense’s strength. Calvin Avery was last season’s only significant loss to the defensive line. Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolph — who were first and second on the team in sacks — return to anchor what should be a solid pass rush again. TeRah Edwards and Denzel Daxon anchor the line’s interior at nose tackle. Expect senior Bryce Barnes and redshirt sophomore Sed McConnell also to get significant time in the defensive line rotation.

Linebacker, B+

Last season’s leading tackler Isaac Darkangelo is gone, but that’s the only significant loss to the linebacking corps. Expect Dylan Rosiek to slide into that inside backer spot for the outgoing Darkangelo. Gabe Jacas and Seth Coleman — who finished second and third in sacks — return to anchor the outside backers, which should be a fun group to watch in Champaign. This solid and underrated group completes one of the best front sevens in the Big Ten.

Defensive Back, C+

Anytime you lose four defensive backs to the NFL, your position group will take a hit. Sydney Brown (Eagles), Devon Witherspoon (Seahawks), Jartavius Martin (Commanders), and Kendall Smith (Commanders) represent 17 of last season’s nation-leading 24 interceptions. However, there is hope to rebuild the secondary this season. Florida International transfer Demetrius Hill was one of the best defensive backs in the portal. The Illini also return Matthew Bailey and Tyler Strain, who combined for five interceptions last season. There are a lot of pieces that need to congeal, but the secondary could be solid.

Special Teams:

Kicker, C

Caleb Griffin returns as the primary placekicker. He made 73.7 percent of field goals attempted last season, which isn’t great. Could freshman David Olano challenge him this summer?

Punter, C+

Hugh Robertson was solid punting last year at about 40 net yards per punt. Freshman Declan Duley could push Robertson this summer.

Returns, B-

Isaiah Williams and freshman Kenari Wilcher are the leading candidates to return punts, while Hank Beatty and Josh McCray will likely handle kickoffs.

Armchair Illini is a comprehensive site dedicated to covering University of Illinois Athletics owned and operated by Alex Kyi. Dante Pryor has been writing about College Football for years on Saturday Blitz and is now the Lead Football Author for Armchair Illini.