The 90 Illini - 35~31

Aug 08, 2018

Gonna try to sneak in a 90i post before heading back to training camp in the morning. They threw me a curveball by switching practice from 3:00 pm to 9:00 am, but I stayed back on it and laced it into center for a base hit. Also, I'm only going to get about four hours of sleep tonight.

35. Caleb Reams

Wide Receiver
Warren Township High School / Gurnee, Illinois
Junior (2 years to play 2)
Tom Cruises: 2

What I Know About Him:

He was a tight end. Then he was a receiver. Then he went back to tight end. Then he went to receiver. Then, we switched to Rod Smith's offense and he moved over to tight end/h-back for spring ball. This summer... he's back at receiver.

Can you say "tweener"? That's how we labeled him when he signed, and that's what he's been so far. A little too big for wide receiver, a little too small for tight end.

What I Expect From Him:

He pushed his way into the rotation at receiver last season, especially as the year wore on. Had that great touchdown in the Indiana game where he was tripped up at about the eight but kept his balance, used his hand to prop himself up one time, and was able to stumble all the way to the endzone.

Catching passes and making plays has never been the problem. Finding a position for him has been the problem. Now, with two years left, hopefully they settle on something this camp and then keep him the for those final two years.

34. Jake Cerny

Offensive Lineman
Traverse City West High School / Traverse City, Michigan
Redshirt Sophomore (3 years to play 3)
Tom Cruises: 3

What I Know About Him:

Why am I just now realizing that I know someone who knows him? My wife has a good friend in Traverse City. We've stayed with her and her husband several times while traveling through Michigan. We have their Christmas card hanging on our fridge, and on the card is my wife's friend, here husband, and their son walking on Senior Night at Traverse City West High School last fall. Which means her son would have been a sophomore at Traverse City West when Cerny was a senior. So they probably, like, know each other and stuff.

Ever been to Traverse City? Go to Traverse City. It's awesome in the summer. {piano music} You can spend three days alone exploring the Leelanau Penninsula. Go to Art's Tavern in Glen Arbor, look for the Illini pennant on the ceiling. Escape to the waters of Pure Michigan. {end piano music}

What I Expect From Him:

This is tricky. In the spring, they had him at first string left tackle (in front of Larry Boyd). Was that "hey Jake Cerny we're giving you the chance to win the starting left tackle spot" or was that "hey Larry Boyd we need to light a fire under you so this spring you're second string behind Cerny". Probably a little bit of both.

The first two practice I saw this spring, Cerny was with the third string offensive line. So, um, is he challenging for the left tackle spot or not? I still think he is, which is why I have him up this high, so go out there and prove you can be in the rotation this fall, Jake.

33. Ra'Von Bonner

Running Back
Sycamore High School / Cincinnati, Ohio
Sophomore (4 years to play 3)
Tom Cruises: 1.5

What I Know About Him:

You might have heard that Ohio State was sniffing around after he verballed to Illinois. That's the #1 thing I think when I think of Bonner. "Remember that rumor that Ohio State was considering an offer?" No idea if it was true or not.

I didn't think he was Ohio State material (I only gave him 1.5 Cruises), but I've heard that rumor from at least five people. Us Illini fans - we love our "DID YOU HEAR THAT ___" grapevine.

What I Expect From Him:

This is another tricky one. What is the tailback rotation? There are six contenders - Mike Epstein, Reggie Corbin, Dre Brown, and Ra'Von Bonner, plus true freshmen Jakari Norwood and Kenyon Sims. There aren't even any walkons at running back (Christian Bobak moved to defense), so those are the six.

My guess is that Bonner fits in either third or fourth. I don't think Sims or Norwood will be in the rotation, and I think that Epstein and Corbin are the two main tailbacks who will be used the most, which means it's a battle between Bonner and Brown for the 3rd and 4th spot. I'm listing Bonner here, and I haven't gotten to Brown yet, so...

32. James Knight

Linebacker/Nickel back
East St. Louis Senior High School / East St. Louis, Illinois
Sophomore (4 years to play 3)
Tom Cruises: 2

What I Know About Him:

Here's another tweener. Is he a safety? A linebacker? Probably not fast enough to be a safety and not big enough to be a linebacker, right? That's the struggle here.

He's certainly a big hitter. He'll force at least one fumble this season. "Jimmy Jam" was part of the 2016 East St. Louis state title team, and his jar-the-football-loose ways earned him St. Louis Post Dispatch Defensive Player of the Year. I think we'll see a lot of him on special teams - the question is where he plays on the defense.

What I Expect From Him:

The first two days I saw at camp he was working out at nickel. They're using some linebacker-y guys there and some safety-ish guys. I don't think we'll learn exactly what they're up to there until the Kent State game, but it will be an interesting storyline to watch.

Can Jimmy Jam be the nickel? Man, I don't know. I think he's more of a linebacker, and nickel is more of a cornerback so... I don't know. That's what I'm saying here. Jimmy Jam? I don't think we know yet.

31. Calvin Avery

Defensive Tackle
Bishop Dunne High School / Dallas, Texas
True Freshman (5 years to play 4)
Tom Cruises: 4.5

What I Know About Him:

He's the star recruit of this freshman class. One of the highest-ranked kids to pick Illinois in years. Until Marquez Beason and Isaiah Williams I had never given away five Tom Cruises, so when he verballed, his was the highest rating I had ever given out.

He's also a massive human being. Tree trunks for legs. That's the body type you need to be an immovable object in the center of the defense. Currently he's listed at 330 lbs. 330! For a defensive player!

What I Expect From Him:

Defensive tackles are the ones who seem to advance the most their first season. First week of camp? Completely lost. By October? Some of them will be ready to contribute on the field.

And that's the hope for Avery. He has the body type. He might need to shed a few lbs (are we really going to play him at 330 lbs?), but his leg strength will get him on the field. All that's left now is for it to click. And that might take a while. I saw him down on one knee on the sideline last Friday, gasping for air, realizing just how tough a Big Ten practice can be. Hopefully he grows quickly, adapts to the speed of the game, and contributes as soon as this season.


Illiniiniowa on August 08 @ 08:33 AM CDT

I would love for Avery to be a guy who takes advantage of the new redshirt rule. Keep practicing and learning, then when guys are nicked up later in the Big Ten season, he comes in and plays the last four games of the year (and we pull an upset in that Neb/Min/IA/NW stretch) and then we have him for four more full years.

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