The 90 Illini - 35 ~ 31

Aug 08, 2017

I have that itch right now. I won't be back up to camp until Thursday night, and I REALLY NEED TO KNOW some things, so I shall pass the time by going through another five players on this list. We're approaching the 20's, which means were into a group of players who I expect to play (and play a lot).

35. Carmoni Green

Wide Receiver
6'-1", 190 lbs.
Freshman (on scholarship, 5 years to play 4)
Miami Central High School / Miami, Florida

What I Know About Him

Green was one of the Big Seven in the 2017 recruiting class - guys with high rankings and big-time offers. Guys you win a lot of Big Ten games with. (For the record, the Big Seven: Ricky Smalling, Carmoni Green, Owen Carney, Larry Boyd, Lere Oladipo, Del'Shawn Phillips, and Kendrick Green.)

He was also an early enrollee, so he arrived on campus in January and went through spring ball. This gives him a leg-up (hands-up?) on his competition at receiver. And they're using it to get him ready. He was one of three healthy receivers in the spring so he got all kinds of reps with the first string. And that continues this camp. Everywhere you turn, Carmoni Green is getting a rep with the first string, learning every route in the playbook.

What I Expect From Him

My expectations are sky high. Ricky Smalling might have been the higher-ranked freshman receiver, but Green arrived early, knows the playbook, and shows enough at practice to think that he can make an impact on the field this fall.

Now, he's still just a freshman, and freshmen really struggle in the blocking department, which is why you'll see a less-talented senior play over an uber-talented freshman. Every running play those receivers are more-or-less offensive linemen. And if they can't block anyone, they can't play. (I think he'll block people, which is why I think he'll play a lot.)

34. Jeff George Jr.

6'-3", 215 lbs
Sophomore (on scholarship, 3 years to play 3)
Warren Central High School / Indianapolis, Indiana

What I Know About Him

Such an interesting journey. He commits as a grayshirt in the 2014 class. Which means he enrolls that fall but is not on the football team. He takes a scholarship as part of the next class and joins the team for the spring of 2015. He then redshirts that year, so in 2016 he's a junior in school but a redshirt freshman on the football field.

And it's just his redshirt freshman year and he's third on the depth chart so a clipboarding he shall go, right? Wrong. Both Lunt and Crouch are injured and he finds himself starting a game AT #3 Michigan. It's hard to imagine a worse position to give a freshman QB for his first-ever start. Good luck, kid!

What I Expect From Him

Crouch is clearly the #1 quarterback, so George is clearly the backup. Which means a "what are your expectations?" question is hard to answer. Ideally, we never hear from him this season because Crouch is healthy and performs well.

But I have a feeling people will be begging for him by the third game. That's not an insult to Chayce Crouch - I'm just pointing out Backup QB Syndrome. The offense will likely be an adventure the first six games, especially with Crouch feeling his way around his first season as the starter. And when he misses a wide-open receiver on third and four at the Western Kentucky 48 (just like every QB in the country misses a wide open receiver in his third start), expect to hear calls for George Jr. Backup QB - the most popular guy on campus.

33. Justice Williams

6'-3", 220 lbs.
Sophomore (on scholarship, 3 years to play 3)
Wakeland High School / Frisco, Texas

What I Know About Him

It will be interesting to see where the linebackers settle. After four practices I THINK the rotation will be Hansen and Phillips at WLB, Watson and Harding at MLB, and Jones and Williams at SLB. But that seems to change daily. Williams is in his third (redshirt sophomore) season and I'm still not sure where he fits on the depth chart.

I did it again. It's been a while. I'm famous for answering my second question ("what I expect from him") before I answer my first question. So… what do I know about him? He's a third-year linebacker from Texas who picked us over Mississippi State and was probably going to be a Will Linebacker in the Tim Banks defense but in the Lovie defense I'm not quite sure where he lands.

What I Expect From Him

I'm not quite sure where he lands. Which means one thing, usually: special teams dynamo. We haven't picked a special teams dynamo guy yet, right? Williams would be perfect. Fast for a linebacker, can shed a block - let's make sure he's on every kickoff team.

As for linebacker, stay tuned. I don't think we'll know much about the linebacker rotation until conference season. There's a lot of depth (good) but I don't think the staff has settled on their guys yet. And I think they'd consider this a good problem to have.

32. Sam Mays

Wide Receiver
6'-3", 200 lbs.
Junior (on scholarship, 3 years to play 2)
Kinkaid High School / Missouri City, Texas

What I Know About Him

I can't talk about Sam Mays without talking about how he almost flipped to Michigan. Jim Harbaugh had to finish the 2014 season with San Francisco before moving on to Michigan, so he was hired on December 30th. The first two weeks of January are a dead period (no contact with recruits), so Harbaugh more or less had 17 days to put together his first recruiting class.

One player who he went to see: wide receiver Sam Mays in Houston. I asked Mays about it last year, and he said it was tempting but he had been committed to Illinois for a long time and had built a great relationship with the staff. So, Mays is in orange and blue, not maize. Go orange.

What I Expect From Him

It always works like this. Highly-ranked freshman receivers come in (Ricky Smalling! Carmoni Green!) and I start imagining all of the throws their way. But then I realize that it's the senior and juniors (like Mays) who know the offense, know the routes, and, most importantly, know how to block.

So I expect Mays to have a bit of a breakout season. Illini comp? Spencer Harris when he came out of nowhere to grab 26 passes in 2011. I guess Mays wouldn't exactly be "out of nowhere" - he caught 13 passes last year including the game-winner with 90 seconds left against Michigan State. But I expect that he'll double that number this season.

31. Chris James

Nickel back
5'-11", 195 lbs.
Junior (on scholarship, 2 years to play 2)
West Orange-Stark High School / Orange, Texas

What I Know About Him

He entered the season last year as the starter at nickel. But midway through the year, the coaches decided that they like Darius Mosely at that spot (Mosely had been starting outside at corner, but they wanted him to move inside). That meant that guys like Frank Sumpter, Ahmari Hayes, and Cam Watkins got a chance out at corner… and it meant that James played less and less.

But he still played a fair bit on special teams (all of the coverage teams, as I recall. And he's now entering his fourth (redshirt junior) season, so this is when players usually make a leap. Hopefully he makes a leap.

What I Expect From Him

He's in a battle with Cam Watkins for the nickel corner starting spot. And remember, Lovie said last week that they're in the nickel "65 to 70% of the time", which means that the nickel is a starting spot while Sam Linebacker is a "when we're in that formation" spot.

Will James win the starting spot? We're at #31 here, and we haven't gotten to Watkins yet, so that should tell you my answer. But that doesn't mean James won't be important. If he doesn't win the starting spot, he'll still be an important special teams performer. And he'll be in the rotation on defense. And he might even return a kick or two.


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