The 90 Illini #71: Evan Kirts
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Evan Kirts switched from OL to DL this spring. That made me look up all of the position switches we've seen so far from Bielema's staff. Some have been celebrated (Isaiah Williams from quarterback to wide receiver being the one we've discussed the most), but some haven't been discussed much. This is only a list of players currently on the roster, so someone like Kerby Joseph (who had gone corner-strong safety-wide receiver under Lovie and then finally free safety under the new staff) isn't listed here.
Position switches for scholarship players after Bielema took over:
- Isaiah Williams QB to WR
- Shammond Cooper ILB to OLB
- Michael Marchese LB to TE
- Verdis Brown OL to DT
- Daniel Edwards DB to WR
- Evan Kirts OL to DL
There have been several other position switches (like Coran Taylor from QB to DB), but most of those players have now moved on (including Taylor). I don't really have a point here. Just got to thinking about the players moved around by the new staff who have remained on the roster going into 2022.
71. Evan Kirts
Uniform number: 57
Year in school: Redshirt Sophomore (without the Covid waiver, 2 years to play 2; with the Covid waiver, technically 3 years to play 3)
Height: 6'-5" -- Weight: 300 lbs.
Hometown: Evergreen Park, Illinois
High School: Brother Rice HS
Five best offers: Virginia, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Ball State
Tom Cruise rating:
Kirts was a late addition to the 2019 recruiting class. We had (somewhat famously) missed on several OL targets in the 2019 class, and in the fall of 2018, Kirts had a breakout season at Brother Rice. Much like Palcho in the fall of 2016, there was no recruiting buzz until the fall of his senior season. We offered (along with Virginia and some MAC schools) and he picked Illinois.
That OL class is now no longer an OL class. Josh Plohr entered the transfer portal last month, Moses Okpala (who started on the defensive line and then moved to offensive line) left last fall, and Kirts moved from OL to DL this spring after two juco linemen (Zy Crisler and Isaiah Adams) were added to the roster. Kirts wasn't in the OL two-deep, bodies are needed on the defensive line, so that's where he moved.
Not to put too much pressure on him here but this is his fourth season (he's a sophomore because of the Covid waiver and a redshirt year but a senior when he goes to class) which means that this is his chance. Two outcomes that I see. He breaks into the DL rotation and sticks around backing up Keith Randolph and Johnny Newton for two more seasons OR he gets his degree next May and just moves along. Remember, 5th-year guys (and 6th-year guys with a Covid year) are here at the discretion of the coaching staff.
It's also true that 3rd and 4th-year players are at the discretion of the coaching staff, especially in 2022. There are always "son, I don't see you getting into the two deep here" conversations (at every school every offseason), and that was especially true this spring because teams with bloated rosters last year have to be back at 85 scholarships this fall. So perhaps we can read into the fact that 20-some players went out the door but Kirts is still here. The coaches did mention him in press conferences this spring as being a pleasant surprise after the move to DL.
So this is his chance. Randolph and Newton will obviously start. But nothing is set in stone on the second string. Time to make a play for one of those spots.