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Illini Football’s Strongest Unit



Illini Football's Strongest Unit
Nov 6, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini defensive lineman Keith Randolph Jr. (88) celebrates a win against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Huntington Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Illini Football’s Strongest unit will be the Defensive Line.

During the 2022 season, the Illini football’s strongest unit was their secondary. After Kerby Joseph was drafted in the 3rd round of the NFL draft, Ryan Walters continued his impressive defensive coaching. There was no surprise during this offseason, as three stars of said secondary were invited to the NFL combine. Devon Witherspoon is expected to be drafted in the top 15 at worst. Sydney Brown and Quan Martin both shined at the combine and have really improved their draft stock. Both defensive backs could possibly be drafted in the first 3 rounds, much like Kerby Joseph.

However, the secondary will be transitioning to a young, talented yet unproven group led by new Defensive coordinator, Aaron Henry. The defensive line, however had a solid year lead by the famous Law Firm. Luckily for Illinois, both Jer’zhan Newton and Keith Randolph elected to return for one last go-round in Champaign.

The Return of the Law Firm

Jer’zhan Newton is a preseason All-American after recording 5.5 sacks this past season. Newton likely could have worked his way into the NFL draft, however his return is absolutely vital. All good teams have those few players that could have been NFL draft picks however chose to return. Newton is joined by Keith Randolph, whom also had an impressive junior season. Though last year’s solid defensive line was aided by Calvin Avery who has graduated, the nose tackle spot is filled by Te’rah Edwards. Edwards had solid play in relief of Avery, and will look to establish himself with more reps.

Newton and Randolph are the Illini’s strongest and most talented players on the defensive side of the ball, and arguably the entire team. The only worry is what is behind those guys.

Backing up the Law Firm

Injuries are a common part of the game. Even if Newton and Randolph stay healthy all season, there needs to be solid play behind them that can allow rest. Unfortunately, Illinois is rather thin behind the Law Firm and Te’rah Edwards. Even last year, Newton and Randolph were 1st and 3rd respectively in defensive reps played. That is a lot to ask of anyone.

Behind the two superstars, there is a lot of younger and unproven talent. Players like Sed McConnell, Bryce Barnes and former O-lineman Evan Kirts need to take steps forward. Illinois also is active in the transfer portal for Defensive line depth, as noted this past weekend. Bielema and the Illini hosted Minnesota transfer De’Angelo “Trill” Carter for an official visit.

Carter was a starter for the Gophers and even earned Big Ten Honorable mention. He will likely have numerous other power-five options however the Illini are hopeful they can add some very much needed experienced depth.

Faces of this next season’s team.

Regardless of the depth pieces that Illinois will add in the transfer portal. Newton and Randolph are clearly the faces of the Illini this coming year. Their infectious personality in the media surely aids both of them off the field as they enjoy their final times in college. Illinois just has to do their part and support the Law Firm with depth and surrounding talent.


Alex is the Owner of, your go-to source for in depth coverage of the Illinois Fighting Illini. Alex is a Resident Physician in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation for Northwestern Medicine and has had articles featured in top media publications like Bleacher Report, YardBarker, Verbal Commits, CBS sports and more.