The 90 Illini #40: Quan Martin
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Thing that no one remembers: when we were down 28-3 against Michigan State - and I don't know if this was a "benching" or a "we need to try something different" - Lovie put Quan Martin and Delano Ware in at safety and sat Stanley Green and Sydney Brown. At the time, in the stands, I believe we discussed whether it was a white flag wave ("let's just go to the second string") since backups like Dawson DeGroot and Khalan Tolson were already out there. Quan Martin had switched to safety maybe three weeks prior, so that's a really steep learning curve. Maybe 15 practices before being tossed out there in a Big Ten game.
Whatever it was, upon their return to the field later in the second wuarter, Green and Brown grabbed three interceptions and the team pulled off the biggest comeback in Illinois history. And Quan went back to work learning how to play safety.
40. Quan Martin
Uniform number: 21
Year in school: Junior (3 years to play 2)
Height: 6'-0" -- Weight: 195 lbs.
Hometown: Lehigh Acres, Florida
High School: Lehigh Acres HS
Five best offers: Iowa State, Tulane, Southern Miss, Air Force, Florida International
Tom Cruise rating: 3 Cruises
2019 statistics: Played in 12 games, starting five. 23 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries. Switched from cornerback to safety midseason.
He was my guy in the 2018 class. Loved his film. And then he started off with a bang, starting eight games at cornerback as a true freshman. He also started the first five games at corner last year before Lovie did the big midseason shakeup. He moved Tony Adams to corner and Quan Martin to safety while putting Stanley Green back in the starting lineup next to Sydney Brown. The result? The best half-season we've seen from an Illini defense since 2015. And Adams made kind of a big play in the Wisconsin game.
That shakeup was rough for Martin. They started playing freshman Devon Witherspoon more and more, and Adams had the starting spot opposite Hobbs locked down, so Martin was flipped to safety. So here he is, having started nearly every game in his 1.5-year college career, and they're asking him to learn a new position midseason. Adams had played corner in this defense before. Martin hadn't played safety.
So that leaves him in a weird spot. He's wildly experienced for a true junior. But he's also now trying to crack the starting lineup at a second position.
Really wish I could see training camp so I could answer this question. Adams left corner for safety and Nick Walker opted out which means there are only three returning players at corner: Nate Hobbs, Devin Witherspoon, and Marquez Beason. Four will play, so... is Quan headed back to cornerback? Or will it be a freshman (or a converted wide receiver)?
What about nickel packages? If Lovie does more of that this year, would he put Quan on the field as the fifth defensive back? He has cover corner skills and he's learning safety skills - that would be a good fit for him, right?
Basically, I really don't have an answer here. Safety? Corner? Nickel? We won't know much until the season.