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Illinois Football: Early Signing Day is Proof of Bielema’s Plan



Illinois football

Bielema wants to beef up the line of scrimmage for Illinois Football.

The Brooklyn Dodgers had a saying, “Wait ’til next year.” For Illini football fans, next year can’t come soon enough. The 2023 season was marred by inconsistent offense and a defense that did not recover from losing its secondary to the NFL. One could argue that Chase Brown’s outstanding 2022 campaign set unfair expectations for Illinois in year three under Bielema. No matter what side of the argument you take, it isn’t hard to see Bielema’s long-term plan.

As Lovie Smith’s players graduate and move on, it is time to see what the Illini look like with Bielema’s recruits. Bielema signed 12 defensive and eight offensive linemen in his last two cycles. The crown jewel of this class is interior offensive lineman Andrew Dennis, a four-star recruit from Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Dennis chose Illinois over Michigan State, Clemson, and Penn State. There are three things to love about Dennis. First, he played multiple sports in high school. Second, effort is not an issue with him. Third, he blocks angrily. Dennis might not be ready this year, but it won’t be long until he’s one of the better linemen in the Big Ten.

Illinois used the Transfer Portal Effectively.

All four transfers Bielema and the Illini staff signed should either start or compete for snaps in 2024, a massive win for Illinois football. The Illini need players who can step in and start day one. Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolph are off to the NFL Draft, and rotational player Bryce Barnes graduated. Youngstown State transfer Anthony Johnson is a versatile defensive lineman who can play inside or outside. He’ll more than make up for the loss of Clay Patterson, as will Auburn transfer Enyce Sledge. With Denzel Daxon out of eligibility, Sledge will pair with TeRah Edwards at the nose. However, he can also move to the three-tech if needed.

Illinois loses offensive tackles Isaiah Adams and Juilan Pearl as well. Guard Josh Gesky could move to tackle in 2024, or transfers J.C. Davis and Kevin Wigenton could start day one.

Keep an eye on JUCO transfer Daniel Brown. He was the top-rated EDGE rusher in the Junior College ranks. At 6-foot-1, it will be interesting to see where he plays for the Illini. You don’t sign JUCO players to develop them, so Brown has to find his place quickly.

Last year was tough, but Coach Bielema and his staff know what they are doing. He has a type, and he is recruiting to it.

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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.