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Key Position Battles for Illinois Football Pt. 2: The Defense



Key Position Battles for Illinois Football Pt. 2: The Defense
Nov 12, 2022; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Purdue Boilermakers wide receiver TJ Sheffield (8) can’t make this catch after Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Jartavius Martin (21) makes a tackle during the second half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Football’s defense is more settled than the offense.

That doesn’t mean; however, there aren’t things on the defense that need fleshing out. Players in the front seven are battling for snaps in the rotation. The real competition is in the defensive backfield, where the Illini lost four starters. Where Bielema and his staff have to be excited is that some younger players will challenge veterans for playing time. Here is an inside look at the position battles on defense.

2. Defensive Line:

Defensive coordinators Aaron Henry and Terrance Jamison are looking for the rotation order they’ll use this f ll. What the defensive coaching staff has to love is they are two deep in the trenches with versatility. The Illini want linemen that can play in multiple sp ts. Illinois uses three down linemen in its front, but they might use four, depending on the situation. Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolph, Jr. were first and second in sacks last season; they both return at defensive end. Bryce Barnes and Sed McConnell will vie for snaps behind Newton and Randolph. Keep an eye on frosh Alex Bray. Bray has the size to play early, and he also has natural pass-rush skills.

On the interior, TeRah Edwards and Denzel Daxon will anchor the interior for the Illini. They are also valuable when Illinois goes to four-man fronts. Edw rds and Daxon can also play the three-technique in packages on certain downs.

1. Defensive  Back:

Losing three defensive backs to the NFL Draft is not easy to replace. That makes the secondary the most critical position battle. However, the coaching staff has done great recruiting out of high school and through the transfer portal. Matthew Bailey returns and could occupy one safety position. Demetrius Hill and Nicario Harper will compete for one of the two safety positions. Harper is more of a thumper and figures to fit as more of a strong safety. Tyler Strain and Tahveon Nicholson were vital contributors to last season’s team. Both are looking to start this season. However, JUCO transfer Kaleb Patterson looks to either start or be a significant part of the defensive back rotation.

It will be interesting to see how Henry, Jamison, and defensive backs coach Antonio Fenelus sort out the rotation.

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.