The 90 Illini #43: Deon Pate

Jul 17, 2021

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I hadn't noticed this until filling out the categories down below just now. Deon Pate was listed at 280 lbs. on the roster last season. On the summer update published last month, he's listed at 250 lbs. So it sounds like "bulk him up for defensive tackle" is now a thing of the past and "slim him down so he can play DE" is the new direction.

Makes sense for this scheme. As I've written since the spring game, I view this defense as a 5-2, meaning there's really five defensive linemen. In a 4-3 defense you have a strongside end, a weakside end, a 3-technique tackle, and a "shade" tackle near the center. With this scheme, I almost think of it as an offensive line for the defensive line. Two OLB's (matching up with the tackles, more or less), two "ends" (matching up with the guards), and a nose tackle matching up with the center.

It's not that simple, of course. If there's a tight end on the line then the OLB is going to be lined up outside of him. It's not "you five guys line up across from those five guys". But when we're talking about where defensive linemen fit now, there's really three categories (just like the offensive line). There's OLB's who are mostly your pass rushers, there's LE and RE who are your hybrid DE/DT guys, and there's your NT who is a full-on defensive tackle/space eater.

Last year, Pate was gaining weight to play the two defensive tackle spots. This year, if he's really down to 250, then they want him slimmer to play those "end" roles. Maybe end isn't even the right term. I have a friend who diagrams a 3-4 defense by calling the three linemen as RDL, NG, LDL. That's not LDL cholesterol - Left Defensive Lineman. He's not an end, not a tackle, just... the defensive lineman on the left.

So I guess you could say that Pate lost 30 lbs and lowered his LDL so he could play LDL.

43. Deon Pate

Defensive Lineman
Uniform number: 98
Year in school: Senior (without the Covid waiver, 2 years to play 1; with the Covid waiver, technically 3 years to play 3)
Height: 6'-2" -- Weight: 250 lbs.
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
High School: Trinity Christian Academy
Five best offers: Rutgers, Colorado State, Southern Miss, Appalachian State, Buffalo
Tom Cruise rating:

2020 statistics: Played in all 8 games


Pate has quite the background. First off, he was a very late flip in the recruiting process. He was committed to Appalachian State, but a final-weekend visit in January of 2017 led to a flip just before signing day. Then...

  • He was one of the three 2017 recruits to redshirt (along with Kendrick Green and Lere Oladipo). The other 21 scholarship freshmen all played that season.
  • He was one of the five players suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season. Bennett Williams, Carmoni Green, and Louis Dorsey all eventually left the team. Pate and Nate Hobbs returned to the team.
  • Now Pate is in the odd position of being the only fifth-year junior on the team. Of the three 2017 freshmen who redshirted, Lere Oladipo was dismissed from the team and Kendrick Green declared for the NFL Draft, so only Pate remains. He's been joined by Mike Epstein (medical redshirt) and Donny Navarro (transfer redshirt), but from the 2017 redshirts, only Pate remains.

He might get two graduate degrees, is what I'm saying.

2021 Outlook

There's eight defensive linemen now. One is a true freshman (Sed McConnell). Three are at or above 300 lbs and will be nose tackles (Rod Perry, Calvin Avery, and Quinton McCoy). Which means the two deep at RDL and LDL seems quite simple: some combination of Deon Pate, Keith Randolph, Jer'Zhan Newton, and Jamal Woods.

I'm not sure I need to say much more about the "outlook" here. I guess maybe McConnell makes a push for one of the spots in the rotation, but I really think it will be this simple: all season, those four players will rotate in and out at RDL and LDL.


CubsIllini09 on July 18, 2021 @ 09:21 PM

Scary the lack of depth, especially when you think of Woods injury history.

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