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Illinois Football Season Preview Pt. 5: D-Line and Linebackers



Illinois football season preview part five.
Nov 6, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan (2) is brought down by Illinois Fighting Illini defensive lineman Jer'Zhan Newton (94) and linebacker Isaiah Gay (92) for a loss in the fourth quarter at Huntington Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Football Season Preview Pt. 5: D-Line and Linebackers

The bread and butter of Illinois’ successful 2022 campaign was the defense. Not only was it one of the best– if not the best– in the Big Ten, it was among the best in college football last season. The Illini ranked eighth in pass yards allowed and allowed just nine touchdown passes. It led the nation with 24 interceptions. The Illinois football defense ranked tenth in rush defense, allowing six rushing touchdowns. Most important, the Illini was first in scoring defense.

The Illinois defense was formidable because of the front seven. Consequently, that will be the case again in 2023.

Jer’Zhan Newton might be the country’s best defensive lineman.

How good is Mr. Newton? The redshirt junior was third on the team in tackles last season. It is unheard of for a defensive lineman to be top five in tackles for their team. That statistic evokes memories of players like Steve Entman, Warren Sapp, and Ndamukong Suh. As a result, Newton is going to be on every end-of-season defensive award in the country. He could be the first 3-4 defensive end in the NFL Draft 2024. Fortunately for him and the Illini, he isn’t alone. Newton’s partner on the other end, Keith Randolph, was fifth on the team in tackles and second in sacks.

That lets you know that getting to the second level on this defense was problematic. Nose tackles Te’Rah Edwards and Denzel Daxon will rotate and eat space to keep the linebackers clean.

The Illini have elite linebackers.

Last season’s leader in tackles, Isaac Darkangelo, is gone. However, this group is not short on talent. Redshirt sophomore Dylan Rosiek should slide in nicely next to Tarique Barnes, who is ready to quarterback the defense. In addition, the coaching staff believes outside linebacker Gabe Jacas has Simeon Rice’s potential as a pass rusher. Redshirt Junior Seth Coleman is no slouch, either.

This front seven was dominant at times last season. They’ll have to be as dominant, if not more dominant, in 2023. The Illini must give a rebuilt, reloaded secondary time to gel together. Trust this group to do just that.

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.