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2007 Illinois Preview - Offense
Posted May 23, 2007

Preview 2007 Illinois Fighting Illini Offense Preview


Illinois Fighting Illini

Preview 2007 - Illinois Offense

- 2007 Illinois Preview | 2007 Illinois Defense Preview
2007 Illinois Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Illinois Preview

What you need to know: Has there ever been so much of a buzz for an offense that's done absolutely nothing? Juice Williams led the way to the nation's most inefficient passing attack, the O struggled to average 20 points a game, and never, ever came up with a clutch play. Chalk it up to youth, but this year's offense is still insanely young, and getting younger with the best receiver, Arrelious Benn, a true freshman. Even so, all will be fine as long as the starting 11 stays healthy. If injuries strike, things will go in the tank with no one to rely on behind Williams, no solid number two running back behind home-run hitter Rashard Mendenhall, and little developed depth behind an average line with four starters returning.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Juice Williams
103-261, 1,489 yds, 9 TD, 9 INT
Rushing: Rashard Mendenhall
78 carries, 640 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Kyle Hudson
30 catches, 403 yds, 3 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore QB Juice Williams
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior RB Rashard Mendenhall
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE Jeff Cumberland
Best pro prospect: Senior OT Akim Millington
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Williams, 2) Mendenhall, 3) WR Arrelious Benn
Strength of the offense: Receiver speed, starting experience
Weakness of the offense:
Depth, consistency


Projected Starter: He couldn't hit the ocean if he was thrown out of the boat, he was an inconsistent runner who took way too many sacks, and he appeared lost at times as a true freshman, but Isiah "Juice" Williams is one of the Big Ten's rising stars and one of the nation's most dangerous all-around threats. Yeah, he completed a mere 39.5% of his passes and threw one touchdown pass in the final five games, but he has the arm to bomb away and utilize all his deep weapons. Yeah, he ran mostly because he didn't know what he was doing. but he tore off 576 yards, the most ever for an Illinois quarterback in a season. While he appears to be more in command of the offense, and he has his star receiver in freshman Arrelious Benn, consistency will be the key throughout the year.

Projected Top Reserves: Williams might be inconsistent, but he'll appear steady as a rock compared to redshirt freshman Eddie McGee. At 6-4 and 189 pounds, McGee is a tall passer with tremendous running ability. At times, he was unstoppable in spring ball, and other times he wasn't remotely close. Basically, he needs time. The third man in the mix is junior Billy Garza, a pure passer who might see time as a potentially steadier backup option if Williams gets hurt. He doesn't have a big-time deep arm, but he's good short to midrange.

Watch Out For ... Williams to be far, far better throwing the ball. It might not seem like much, but if Juice just completes half his passes the offense will blow up.
Strength: Mobility. Williams will keep defensive coordinators up at nights. Even if he's not running, he's great at buying time behind a mediocre offensive line.
The team is too reliant on Williams. Considering Juice led the team with 154 carries, it might be playing with fire to not get McGee and Garza meaningful snaps to get them prepared for the inevitable; Williams, with his running style, will get dinged up for at least a little bit of time. Neither one is ready for primetime.
Outlook: Last year was about getting a little bit of time, this year will be about working more and more with the offense, and next year will be about Juice blowing up. He'll have his moments when he'll bounce pass everything, and other times he'll rip off several big runs and connect on 75-yard pass plays that'll get everyone jacked up. If he goes down for any length of time, it'll be uh-oh time.
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starter: With Pierre Thomas and E.B. Halsey gone, it's Rashard Mendenhall's time to take over the running game and use his home-run hitting ability to become the main man. The 5-11, 210-pound junior has excellent speed and moves, and he showed them off with a nice season averaging 8.2 yards per carry with 640 yards and five touchdowns. He was a big-time recruit who had a hard time getting regular work, but when he got his chance, he was great, rushing for 161 yards against Penn State and 113 yards and a touchdown (on an 86-yard dash) against Northwestern. He'll also see time as a receiver catching 12 passes for 164 yards and a score on a 76-yard play against Syracuse.

Projected Top Reserves: When one Mendenhall isn't getting the ball, another one will. 6-0, 225-pound junior Walter Mendenhall is a former linebacker who's made his biggest impact on special teams. Now he'll be the number two running back adding more power than Rashard Mendenhall.

When the Illini uses a fullback, it'll be 240-pound senior Russ Weil who gets the call as a pure blocker. The former linebacker is all about creating holes for the tailbacks and likely won't see the ball more than a few times.

Watch Out For ... Rashard Mendenhall to see the ball in a variety of ways. He has too much potential to score every time he touches the ball to not get it 20 times a game.
Strength: Blocking. Both Mendehalls can hit with Walter a good enough hitter to potentially see time at fullback. Weil is a blaster when he gets playing time.
Backup runner. Rashard Mendenhall and Halsey were great reserves to use in the rotation, and now it'll be Walter Mendenhall, a bit of an unknown as a consistent runner. There's no one else behind them to count on right away.
Outlook: Rashard Mendenhall will have his moments of wow with several big plays and a few monster statistical games. He has to do a better job of hanging on to the ball, but as long as he's not fumbling, he'll be a good one. Staying healthy is also a must until some of the true freshmen figure out what they're doing.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: Let's stop the speculation right now. Superstar recruit Arrelious Benn, who would've been the number one receiver at Notre Dame (and would've been a possible starter at Florida State) had he not chosen Illinois late in the game, will be the team's best receiver from game one. The 6-2 and 210-pound freshman was one of the eye-opening gets of this year's recruiting class with a phenomenal array of talents. He's the game-breaker the program has been missing since Brandon Lloyd left, and while he's listed as a backup coming out of spring ball, that'll change by fall. He was amazing in the spring game catching five passes for 145 yards.

Last year's leading receiver, junior Kyle Hudson, is back after catching 30 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns. While serviceable, he's only 165 pounds and has yet to consistently show off his warp speed as a deep threat. He'll make big plays here and there; just not enough of them.

Adding more size to the mix is 6-2, 210-pound junior DaJuan Warren, who caught 15 passes for 186 yards as a spot starter. He has the size and the speed to be a dangerous all-around playmaker, but it hasn't happened over the last two years. He has to take advantage of all the single coverage.

Returning at tight end will be sophomore Jeff Cumberland, a nice safety valve who finished third on the team with 16 catches for 232 yards and a touchdown. At some point he's going to blow up and be a star with some of the best speed on the team and nice hands. If he can grow into a blocker, he has NFL potential.

Projected Top Reserves: Benn will end up starting, but sophomore Chris James was listed as a starter coming out of spring ball. He only caught five passes for 76 yards last season, but he's the tip of quick target who could excel as both a deep threat and a inside receiver. He'll be great when he gets the ball on the move.

Adding even more speed to the overall mix is sophomore Joe Morgan, who has 4.4 wheels in a 6-2, 180-pound frame. He only caught two passes last season, but he's too fast and has too much upside to not see more action playing behind Warren.

Backing up Cumberland will be 6-5, 255-pound sophomore Michael Hoomanawauni. Compared to Cumberland, he's more than just a beefed up wide receiver. He's a great blocker who has the hands to be used as a regular in the passing game.

Watch Out For ... Benn. He's the type of receiver who goes somewhere big, becomes an all-star, and ends up making a lot of money playing on Sundays. All he needs is the confidence that he can be a next-level caliber target right away.
Strength: Speed. Benn can move, Hudson can fly, and James, Warren and Morgan can all stretch the field. Now they have to used all their speed to come up with more big plays.
Toughness. This is still a young group, and it's full of outside deep threats who need to start doing more across the middle. They have to help out the quarterback, and not necessarily the other way around.
Outlook: This would've been one of the team's strengths before the arrival of Benn, and now the corps has the potential to be positively unreal ... next year. It's still going to take a season to get Juice Williams to throw the forward pass with any sort of consistency, and it's going to take a year before Benn blows up into an unstoppable number one force. Until then, this will be a dangerous corps that'll crank out big plays here and there.
Rating: 7

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: All four starters return to a mediocre offensive line that has to be better in pass protection. The best of the bunch is 6-6, 310-pound senior Akim Millington, a former Oklahoma Sooner who hasn't quite lived up to his potential, and needs to be far better against athletic speed rushers, but he has the size and the strength to become a top-shelf left tackle

On the other side will again be 6-6, 320-pound Charles Myles after starting 11 games last season. The former defensive lineman is a physical run blocker who still needs to round out his overall game. After a year of experience, he'll be expected to shine on the right side.

The one newcomer to the starting mix is sophomore Jon Asamoah at right guard. At only 265 pounds, he's not all that big, but he's tremendously athletic and should be great on the move. He got his feet wet over the second half of last year, but it's asking a lot for him to immediately replace Matt Maddox.

6-5, 300-pound senior Martin O'Donnell is back at left guard, and now he has to put it all together and use his experience to be one of the rocks up front. He was a surprise star as a freshman, a mediocre sophomore, and an inconsistent junior, but he has all the tools, and three years under his belt, to be a leader on the left side.

Junior Ryan McDonald can play guard or center, and will return in the middle after starting every game last year. He's 6-5 and 300 pounds with good quickness and smarts. Over the next two years, he'll be a solid quarterback up front.

Projected Top Reserves: It's just a question of time before redshirt freshman Brandon Jordan steps in to a big role. At 6-5 and 290 pounds, he brings far more size than Asamoah at right guard along with plenty of toughness. Along with Jordan, senior Ben Amundsen will see time at guard, but he'll mostly spend the season behind McDonald at center. He's 6-5 and 310 pounds with a little bit of starting experience in 2005. He'll have to fight for playing time, but he's one of the few veteran backups.

Needing to get work at tackle before being a starter next year will be 6-7, 315-pound redshirt freshman Ryan Palmer. He'll start out behind Myles on the right side, but he'll see time where needed with an excellent combination of size and athleticism.

Watch Out For ... better pass protection. Millington and Myles have the talent at tackle, but they weren't able to block anyone who knew how to rush the passer. Their experience should account for more consistency.
Strength: Experience. With four returning starters, this has the potential to be one of the team's best lines in a long time. If cohesion means anything, this group should have its moments when it controls games. However ...
Is the line any good? Yeah, there are a lot of returning players, but it's not like they'll have the NFL scouts drooling (although Millington will get a hard look). The hope has to be for all the young prospects waiting in the wings to upgrade the overall talent level.
Outlook: This is the year it all has to come together. While the team's rushing stats were impressive, the line got way too much credit since many of the yards came when Juice Williams freaked out and took off. With all the returning experience, now is when the Illinois front five has to finally turn into a strength and start to dictate the tempo and the flow of games.
Rating: 7


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2007 Illinois Preview
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2007 Illinois Preview - Defense
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2007 Illinois Preview - Depth Chart
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