2007 Illinois Preview - Offense
Illinois Fighting Illini Offense Preview
Preview 2007 - Illinois Offense
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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
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
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
Weakness of the offense:
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.
Weakness: 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.
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.
Weakness: 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.
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
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
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.
Weakness: 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.
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
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
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 ...
Weakness: 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
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.