The 90 Illini - 10 ~ 1


Robert
Aug 30, 2019
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2 Comments

Gotta push through. Finish this post, then write the SOC, then go to bed, then, when I wake up, 2019 Illini football. I sat in this very chair on August 1st writing my "on my way to camp tomorrow!" post. Now, with August coming to a close tomorrow, I have two preseason posts remaining. Let's get to it.

10. Jamal Milan

Defensive Tackle
Al Raby High School / Chicago, Illinois
Senior (1 year to play 1)
Tom Cruises: 3.5

What I Know About Him:

I just realized there are some fortunate injuries here in the top 10. For example, Jamal Milan was on the field in September of 2015 as a true freshman before an injury meant he sat the rest of the year. He got a medical redshirt and returned for the 2016 season as a redshirt freshman. Had he not gotten that medical redshirt, he would have graduated last season.

And he was part of the big Signing Day in 2015. Illinois had four scholarships open going into signing day with four players choosing their school at a press conference. And all four picked Illinois - Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Cam Watkins, Trenard Davis, and Jamal Milan.

What I Expect From Him:

He was injured at training camp last season and didn't return until October. So the junior breakout season I was hoping for never really got off the ground. He played with a knee brace, so I'm not sure he was ever 100%.

Which means we now hope for a senior breakout season. There are only three seniors in the starting lineup on defense (Milan, Tymir Oliver, and Dele Harding), and Lovie needs big years out of all three of them.

9. Vederian Lowe

Offensive Lineman
Auburn High School / Rockford, Illinois
Junior (3 years to play 2)
Tom Cruises: 3

What I Know About Him:

Let's see, what do we know about Vederian. Oh... he's a new father. His girlfriend had a baby this summer. So he has a new thing he's playing for this season.

And he's a great example of what weightloss can do for a football player. When he arrived he was north of 350 lbs. The strength and conditioning staff took some weight off of him (and added some muscle to him) and now he's a very svelte 320 lbs.

What I Expect From Him:

My concern is that the running game takes a step back because A) our best offensive lineman from last year, Nick Allegretti, is with the Kansas City Chiefs now, and B) we no longer have a run-first QB which puts a lot more pressure on the tailbacks. But if we do take a step forward as an offense, it will be because the two offensive tackles took a big step forward.

As I said in the preview, that step forward could, by the end of the year, be "uh, is this the best tackle tandem in Champaign in 15+ years?". Both are juniors, both have 20+ starts, both are really rounding into form. And then both will return again in 2020 to hopefully challenge for "best pair of tackles in the Big Ten".

8. Jake Hansen

Linebacker
East Lake High School / Tarpon Springs, Florida
Junior (2 years to play 2)
Tom Cruises: 2

What I Know About Him:

I know I've mentioned this before, but it's my go-to "what I know about Jake Hansen" stat. When I wrote his LLUOI post I stated that he looks really fast but I was pretty sure it was some of that high school film you see where it's sped up to 1.1 times normal speed so it still looks like normal football but individual players look just a little bit faster (it happens). So I gave him two Cruises.

And then his high school coach reached out to me to say "uh, no, we put that film together and he really is that fast for a high school linebacker". Now, fast for a high school linebacker isn't the same as fast for a college linebacker, so Hansen isn't ever going to blow someone away with his speed, but his coach was right - he's deceptively fast.

What I Expect From Him:

He came out of the gates on fire last season. I'm hurrying through this post to get to the SOC, so I don't have time to look it up, but I think he had 5.5 tackles for loss in the Kent State game? That was a great return from his sophomore ACL injury (missed the entire season). But as the season wore on, well, you saw - Illinois really struggled against the run.

So I'm hoping for (expecting) a big junior season. Hopefully adding Milo Eifler to the mix (and a healthy Dele Harding) means some of the pressure is taken off Hansen. Lovie is calling the defense now and really needs a Will linebacker who has a great season.

7. Alex Palczewski

Offensive Lineman
Prospect High School / Mount Prospect, Illinois
Junior (3 years to play 2)
Tom Cruises: 3

What I Know About Him:

We just covered Vederian, so I feel like I've already half-covered Palcho. I'll start with some of the things I know.

Palcho was 100% a find by the Illini coaching staff. As I recall he hadn't played football his junior year of high school (injury I think?) so he didn't have any film (nor any offers). Then he has this great senior year at Prospect and we're his first offer. He later got more FBS offers (Vandy, Syracuse) but picked his home state school. And was probably our best OL find (unranked, unknown) in a decade.

What I Expect From Him:

There's a reason he was part of Big Ten media days as a junior. That usually means the coaching staff is expecting all-conference honors from a player. So if you're looking for a guy to make a push for one of the All Big Ten teams, look no further than Palcho.

As I said above, if he and Vederian continue the trajectory they've been on since their freshman years, they'll graduate as one of the best tackle tandems in Illini history.

6. Tony Adams

Safety
St. Louis University High School / from Belleville, Illinois
Junior (3 years to play 2)
Tom Cruises: 3

What I Know About Him:

Injuries are the main concern. They just are. His senior year of high school he had a torn ACL. He rehabbed and joined the Illini full-go as a freshman and played a lot until injuries limited him to only five games. And then last season injuries limited him to eight games. So he played 4 of 11 games his senior year of high school, 5 of 12 games his freshman year of college, and 8 of 12 games his sophomore year of college. Yes, there are injury concerns.

What I Expect From Him:

When healthy, he has the potential to be one of our best defensive players. He's perfect in that "deep centerfield" role Lovie uses with his defense. "Rangy" is the term always used for free safeties. He's definitely rangy. (Am I spelling that right? Rangey? Doesn't matter.)

As I've said in other parts of this countdown, the starting secondary can be really good. Martin, Adams, Brown, and Hobbs are all Big Ten defensive backs. The issue is depth, so hopefully all of their injury issues are behind them.

5. Brandon Peters

Quarterback
Transfer from Michigan / originally from Avon, Indiana
Junior (2 years to play 2)
Tom Cruises: 3

What I Know About Him:

I think this is the lowest I've ever had the starting quarterback on this list. The position, obviously, is so, so important that the starter usually finds his way to one of the top three spots on The 90 Illini. I'm putting Peters fifth because I'm not completely convinced that he has the starting job on lockdown for the next two seasons. There's still competition to come.

And he understands competition. Honestly, it was a bit unfair how he lost the starting job at Michigan. Similar to Hunter Johnson at Clemson or even Jalen Hurts at Alabama. Performed adaquately - the team just went out and recruited a few five-stars ahead of him. (Note: I'm not suggesting he's as good as Jalen Hurts.) He started four games as a freshman, and then, that offseason, they added Shea Patterson (and Dylan McCaffery came off his redshirt) and in the blink of an eye, Peters went from freshman starter to third string.

What I Expect From Him:

Man, he has the opportunity to be a legend, doesn't he? Just think if the team does something like 6-6 this year and then something crazy like 9-3 in 2020. Those seasons would then be known as the Brandon Peters years. We got a transfer QB from Michigan and started winning immediately (even if much of that winning is because of great performances from other players).

He could also be the goat (not GOAT, goat). If the running game grinds to a halt because there's no option in the read-option, and what we saw from Corbin last year disappears, he'll shoulder much of the blame. Such is the life of a power five conference quarterback.

4. Dele Harding

Linebacker
Eastern Christian High School / Elkton, Maryland
Senior (2 years to play 1)
Tom Cruises: 3.5

What I Know About Him:

He was voted as one of the team captains this week, and I completely agree. If I was in charge of picking the captains, Harding is the very first guy I'd pick. He oozes leadership when you talk to him.

And he's also another Michigan cast-off. If October 12, 2019 happens, it's because a Michigan cast-off quarterback and a Michigan cast-off middle linebacker wanted revenge. Peters was on the Michigan roster and just fell down the depth chart; Harding was committed to Michigan for a year before they ghosted him. So I'm sure he has that game circled.

What I Expect From Him:

I'm guessing this placement (Dele Harding number FOUR?) is maybe the most surprising of anyone on this list. But this is supposed to be "most important Illini", and this defense absolutely needs a leader. Is dying for a leader to step forward.

What better guy than the middle linebacker barking out the defensive calls? If this defense can take a big step forward to respectability (and it pretty much has to or Lovie is sunk), a big senior season from the mike 'backer is perhaps the #1 thing that could push it over the respectability finish line.

3. Ricky Smalling

Wide Receiver
Brother Rice High School / Chicago, Illinois
Junior (3 years to play 2)
Tom Cruises: 4

What I Know About Him:

The coaches have talked about him being "100% healthy" a lot this year. Which means he must have been dealing with an injury last year. We wouldn't know, of course, because Lovie keeps injuries more secret than his PIN number.

Smalling was Lovie's very first recruit, and he had a solid freshman year followed up by a so-so sophomore year. Hopefully we can hang that so-so year on the injury (you never can, but it's August so let's do it anyway). Now, after a sophomore slump, it's time for a junior leap.

What I Expect From Him:

He's number three on this list because a huge junior year from Smalling would go so, so far for this team. Just look at Minnesota to see what a few exceptional receivers can do. If he can be the guy he was supposed to be when he was recruited - and now he has a passing QB who can get him the ball - it will mean great things for this offense.

But on the flipside, if these transfer receivers step forward, it's possible that things go the other way for Smalling. From leading receiver to fourth or something. If that sophomore slump extends into his junior season - like, say, if last year wasn't really an injury issue - then Lovie won't hesitate to move on to receivers that can push the offense forward.

2. Nate Hobbs

Cornerback
Male High School / Louisville, Kentucky
Junior (3 years to play 2)
Tom Cruises: 2.5

What I Know About Him:

Here's another player who wasn't available for the opener last year (three game suspension, and yes, I think we beat South Florida with Nate Hobbs). And it's quite the journey to go for "suspended for three games" last year to "Illini representative at Big Ten Media Days" this summer. That's quite the journey back into Lovie's favor.

He was a great late flip, too. Was headed to Western Kentucky, we saw his senior film, offered him, he decommitted from WKU and committed to Illinois, and now here we are.

What I Expect From Him:

I have him at #2 because he's the defensive player who can most impact the team. My originall list was going to have either Reggie Corbin or Bobby Roundtree at #1 (I hadn't really decided), and with Roundtree out, I put Corbin at number one (sorry for the spoiler) and moved Hobbs up to number two.

What he needs to do as a junior: be a turnover forcing machine. Not just interceptions, but some forced fumbles and maybe a deflected pass caught by a safety (or two) as well. That's what this defense is built to do, and Hobbs will be the player they most count on to make it happen.

1. Reggie Corbin

Running Back
Gonzaga College High School / Upper Marlboro, Maryland
Senior (1 year to play 1)
Tom Cruises: 2

What I Know About Him:

Once I get to the top spot here there's really nothing I can tell you that you don't already know. Since the long touchdown in the Rutgers game (followed by the Epstein injury, followed by Reggie becoming the 100% featured tailback, he's been the face of the program. The hype video that came out today? 100% Reggie Corbin.

He's also on the NFL radar. This season, his task is to prove that he can break tackles, not just juke someone and run untouched to the endzone. So he's going to have to up his game even more than last season's 1,000+ yards.

What I Expect From Him:

I think he ups his game even more than last season's 1,000+ yards. As a fifth-year senior (his injury-induced redshirt in 2015 was such a blessing for 2019), he should be ready to not only be the face of the team, but the leader in ALL the statistics.

He needs 1,299 yards to move to second on the all time Illini rushing yards list. So let's make that the goal. 1,300 yards during his senior season, leading the team to a bowl game. And then maybe 177 more yards in the bowl game.

Comments

Hhsillini on August 31 @ 07:48 AM CDT

Tymir Oliver isn’t a starter...it’ll be the Jamal and Jamal Show at DT, Robert.

GO ILLINI!

jono426 on August 31 @ 08:56 AM CDT

Crazy that Corbin needs 1299 yards to be second all time and he couldn’t even get consistent snaps for our previous oc

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