Preview 2009 - Offense
2009 CFN Illinois Preview
2009 Illinois Offense
2009 Illinois Depth
2008 Illinois Preview
2007 Illinois Preview
2006 Illinois Preview
What you need to know: The
offense wasn't consistent and it didn't crank out the points it
was supposed to, but it should all come together this year with
the Big Ten's best attack. The receiving corps, led by Arrelious
Benn and Florida transfer Jarred Fayson, is the best in the
league by far, while all the rushing production from last year
returns with four quick backs to provide more for the ground
game. The line might need a little time, and it needs to be
better in pass protection, but it's very big and has a ton of
positive upside. Everything works around Juice Williams, who
should be in for a special season now that he has grown into a
better passer and can be one of the league's better rushing
options. This attack should be able to keep up in any sort of a
Passing: Juice Williams
219-381, 3,173 yds, 22 TD, 16 INT
Rushing: Juice Williams
175 carries, 719 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Arrelious Benn
67 catches, 1,055 yds, 3 TD
Star of the offense:
Senior QB Juice Williams
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore OT
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Jarred Fayson
Best pro prospect: Junior WR Arrelious Benn
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Williams, 2) Benn, 3)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui
Strength of the offense: Wide Receiver, Juice Williams
Weakness of the offense:
Pass Protection, Turnovers
When Isiah "Juice"
Williams started out his career completing 39% of his
throws in his true freshman season, it didn't seem possible that
he'd be in the discussion of the greatest Illini passers, but
he's 2,321 yards away from being the leading passer in school
history. No, he's not the passing talent that Jeff George was,
and he's not going to erase the entire record book with Kurt
Kittner and Jack Trudeau to stay alive in a few areas, but he
has improved enough to be considered more than just a runner. At
6-2 and 235 pounds, the senior has excellent size and dominates
the school record book for rushing by a quarterback, amassing
2,050 yards and 14 touchdowns, but his passing is the key
improving last year completing 58% of his throws for 3,173 yards
with 22 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He has a big-time arm
and is fantastic on the move, but he throws way too many picks.
With his terrific receiving corps, he'll put up huge numbers and
could be in the hunt for Big Ten Player of the Year honors.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Eddie McGee
could step in and start and there wouldn't be too much
of a drop-off. The 6-4, 210-pounder is a good passer with a live
arm, but after making a bit of a push for more time after a
decent freshman season as a backup, throwing for 257 yards in a
comeback attempt against Missouri, he didn't see the light of
day last year playing only in extreme blowouts and when Williams
got dinged up a bit against Ohio State. He'll be the starter
next year and is reliable if needed. How good an athlete is he?
He saw starting time at receiver, finishing with five catches
for 49 yards, just to get him on the field.
Redshirt freshman Jacob Charest was an
excellent recruit last year and will be in the hunt for the
starting nod next year. The 6-4, 220-pounder has a live arm,
throwing for 7,683 yards and 73 touchdowns in his high school
career in North Carolina, but he's not exactly the right fit for
Illinois. He's a pro-style passer, not a runner, but he's a good
talent who'll get time to develop.
Watch Out For ... Williams to put up monster stats.
He might not run as much, the deeper corps of running backs will
keep that from happening, but he should throw for well over
3,500 yards considering he has the Big Ten's best set of
receivers to get the ball to.
Strength: The pecking order. Juice is the
unquestioned leader as the three-year starter and the one who
makes the offense roll, McGee is a solid No. 2 who'll serve one
more year as the understudy before starting next year, and
Charest is a great passing option who could add a whole other
dimension as an emergency quarterback.
Weakness: Interceptions. Juice is able to make big things happen
with his arm as well as his legs, but he makes way too many
mistakes with 37 career interceptions. McGee has thrown three
career interceptions and two touchdowns.
Outlook: Juice led the Big Ten in passing yards
per game, showing the weakness of the league's quarterbacks,
averaging 264.4 yards. He'll dominate this year and should be a
lock for post-season honors, while McGee is a solid backup who
can step in and produce if needed.
While there will be a running
back by committee approach, the best of the bunch is
Jason Ford, last year's star recruit who got his feet
wet with 294 yards and a team-leading eight touchdowns in his
limited time. At 6-0 and 230 pounds, the sophomore is a load
who's all but unstoppable around the goal line. He showed he
could handle himself as a starter, rushing for 172 yards and
three scores on just 19 carries against Indiana, but he
struggled against everyone else. A great athlete for his size,
with good enough hands to be used in the passing game, he'll
star far more work this season.
Projected Top Reserves: It's possible that
Daniel Dufrene is the main rushing option again, even
though he might not be the team's most talented back. He was
second on the team in rushing, behind Juice Williams, with 663
yards, and while he didn't get into the end zone on the ground,
he averaged 5.7 yards per pop and was second on the team in
receiving with 30 catches for 271 yards and two scores. The
5-11, 205-pound senior is extremely quick, but the former
Vanderbilt Commodore isn't a banger and won't work too much in
the inside unless there's a big hole.
At 6-0 and 225 pounds, sophomore Mikel LeShoure
got in better shape after coming into the program close to 20
pounds heavier. The Champaign native ran for 126 yards and a
score in his limited time before getting knocked out late in the
year with an injury, but he's a strong runner with good hands
and the ability to be used as a receiver. He fits what the
offense wants to do.
5-8, 185-pound sophomore Troy Pollard is a very
quick, very speedy all-around back with excellent upside after
only rushing six times for 37 yards and a score on a 25-yard
dash against Eastern Illinois, but he missed half the season
hurt. He has to prove he can stay healthy after getting dinged
up two years ago with a knee injury that allowed him to
redshirt. With his speed, he should be a bigger factor in the
running game as well as in the return game.
If and when the Illini uses a fullback, which won't be all that
often, 6-3, 252-pound sophomore Zach Becker
will be in to blast away for the running game. Mostly a special
teamer, he saw a little time on offense catching a two-yard pass
for a score against Wisconsin. He's a big hitter on the coverage
Watch Out For ... Ford. He's the best back on the
roster and he could take over the ground game and be the main
man if he can show a good burst early on. He'll be pounding away
around the goal line, but he should be great between the 20s,
A good rotation.
Dufrene was good enough last year to prove he should see more
time and more work, but Ford is too talented to not get the
ball. LeShoure and Pollard are good curve-ball-like options who
can help take the pressure off of Juice.
Weakness: Scorers. Illinois ran for 17 touchdowns with Ford
getting eight, Juice five, and WR Arrelious Benn two. That means
that outside of Ford, there were just two rushing touchdowns
from the rest of the backs. While that hasn't been that big a
problem, it would be nice if the speedy backs could hit more
Outlook: Including Juice, Benn, and some of the
other receivers who got a carry or two, everyone who gained a
rushing yard last season is back after Illinois finishing 38th
in the nation averaging 169.5 yards per game. The passing game
will star, but the backs are in place to provide more of a
balance than last year.
Illinois was able to beat out
Notre Dame and Florida State for the services of
Arrelious Benn a few years ago in one of the nation's hottest recruiting battles,
and he's been worth it. The 6-2, 220-pound junior has good size,
tremendous toughness, and tremendous playmaking ability
averaging 15.7 yards per grab while running for 101 yards and
two scores. The team's second-leading wide receiver caught 21
passes, while Benn led the team with 67 grabs for 1,055 yards
and three touchdowns. Quick enough to be used on punt returns,
he uses that same ability to be able to start and stop on a dime
when he gets the ball in his hands as a receiver. While he has
been widely accepted that he has 4.33 speed, he's likely going
to be around 4.45 when he's at the Combine in Indianapolis next
April. Whatever he's at, he's plenty fast on the field.
Ready to show what he can do is Jarred Fayson,
a very fast, very talented junior who started out his career at
Florida working both as a return man and a runner with 89 yards
along with 12 catches for 148 yards and three scores. At 6-0 and
215 pounds he has decent size and the upside to explode with all
the attention paid to Benn on the other side, but he has to get
healthy after suffering a foot injury.
In three-wide sets, and depending on the matchup, Jeff
Cumberland will once again be in the mix as both a big
wide receiver and like a second tight end. At 6-5 and 255
pounds, he's a massive target who beats up defensive backs and
is great at fighting for the ball. More than anything else, he's
a great downfield blocker and a surprising deep threat averaging
17.6 yards per catch, highlighted by a 77-yard touchdown against
Michigan, and finished with 20 grabs for 352 yards and four
scores. The senior has the skills to do even more with high
school sprinter speed in a defensive end body.
Senior Michael Hoomanawanui is more than just a
beefed up wide receiver, he's an NFL-caliber tight end with
excellent hands, great route running ability, and good blocking
skills. He finished third on the team with 25 catches for 312
yards and two touchdowns, but he has the speed and talent to do
even more to make things happen deep. At 6-5 and 270 pounds,
he's a huge cog in both the running and passing games.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior Chris
Duvalt might be the fastest of the Illini receivers, or
he's at least close. The former corner has 4.4 wheels and the
ability to hit the home run from anywhere on the field. The
5-11, 175-pounder wasn't able to show off his skills too often
last year catching just ten passes, but he averaged 15.6 yards
per grab and scored four times. He could start in four-wide sets
and will rotate in at all three spots.
sophomore Fred Sykes stepped in as a true
freshman and saw a few games of starting time and finishes with
12 catches for 156 yards and a score. He didn't see a bunch of
time, but he was able to come through with an impressive 50-yard
scoring play against Iowa. He'll mainly work behind
Cumberland, but he'll see time in all three receiver spots.
Sophomore Cordale Scott was one of the star
recruits of last year considered to be one of the nation's top
prep receivers, but he didn't catch a pass and he burned his
redshirt in the process. The 6-3, 215-pounder has all the tools
with size, tremendous athleticism, and leaping ability that
makes him even bigger. Now he needs to produce working in the
rotation at all three spots.
Ron Zook isn't afraid to plug in true freshmen right away, and
Terry Hawthorne might see time right away. One
of the nation's top receiver prospects, named Parade Magazine's
top receiver, he scored 28 touchdowns in his senior year and was
a star defensive back, too. The 6-0, 175-pounder is lightning
quick and could end up starring as a return man as well as a
receiver. He'll also get a few carries.
6-4, 245-pound sophomore Hubie Graham will work
behind Hoomanawanui and will see time in two tight end sets
after making two catches for 25 yards. A big-time recruit, he
has the ability to be used like a big receiver and he's a nice
blocker. Mostly, though, he'll be a key special teamer.
Watch Out For ... Fayson. He might not be Benn, but
he has No. 1 receiver ability. There's the foot problem that he
has to get over, but he was athletic enough to be used in a
variety of ways at Florida, and he'll be a deadly running mate.
Strength: Speed and talent. Benn, Fayson, and
Duvalt can move, while Hoomanawanui moves extremely well for his
size. The backups are just as fast.
Weakness: A sure-thing No. 2 target. That's supposed to be
Fayson, but he has to prove it. There are good prospects to be a
key No. 3, but Duvalt and/or one of the recent top recruits,
like Hawthorne or Scott, have to step up.
Outlook: Of all the places on the team that has
received the most attention from the recruiting classes, no
place has benefitted more than the receiving corps. It should
all pay off this year as this should be the Big Ten's best crop
of receivers, and Juice Williams has grown enough to make them
all shine. This should be a fun group to watch with a ton of
speed and talent to get excited about.
The biggest loss from a very good line is at left tackle, where
second-team All-Big Ten performer Xavier Fulton is gone after a great
year. In steps Corey Lewis, a 6-6, 315-pound sophomore
who saw a little time in four games as a true freshman and has all the
skills to become a star. He might need a little while and a bit of
seasoning, but he's extremely strong, has nice feet, and he's expected
to shine right away. Again, though, he might need a little time in pass
The other big loss on the line is center Ryan
McDonald, an all-star who earned second-team All-Big Ten honors two
years ago and honorable mention last year. In will step Eric
Block after starting all 12 games last year at left guard. The
6-3, 290-pound senior is a smart, tough all-around blocker who was fine
at guard, but he's better suited at center, his more natural position.
He'll be a strong quarterback for the line.
With Block moving
over, 6-6, 320-pound Randall Hunt will bring in more
size at left guard after seeing a little time in five games. A good
recruit who played tackle, both on the offensive and defensive side, in
high school, he could move outside if needed but will be better at
guard. He should be a fixture on the line for the next three years.
Returning to his spot at right guard is Jon Asamoah,
a rock for the line who has started 25 straight games. The 6-5,
315-pound senior has bulked up in a big way over the last few years
after coming to the Illini as an athletic 265-pounder. He's a strong run
blocker who's good on the move. At his size and with his quickness, he's
a near-perfect spread offense guard.
6-5, 310-pound sophomore
Jeff Allen stepped into the starting lineup four games
into his true freshman season and never let the starting right tackle
job go. After earning All-Freshman honors from several sources, he has
tremendous upside with good strength for his age and enough athleticism
to get by. He's not an elite pass protector, but that should change with
a little more time. At the moment, he can make up for most mistakes by
mauling the smaller, quicker ends.
Projected Top Reserves: Ryan Palmer
started the first three games of last year at right tackle
before suffering a foot injury. Allen emerged and Palmer wasn't able to
get the job back. At 6-7 and 310 pounds he's a very tall, versatile
blocker who can play either tackle position. He's not the all-around
blocker that Allen is, but he's fine in pass protection.
320-pound redshirt freshman Graham Pocic was one of the
team's biggest recruits last year, literally and figuratively, and while
he was considered good enough to see time right away, he redshirted. He
could've gone anywhere with Florida, Tennessee, Michigan and Wisconsin
just a few of the big names trying to pick him up, but getting him was a
major coup for the Illini. While he's still considered to be a top guard
prospect, he'll have to push for time at left guard behind Hunt.
Adding more depth and more size among the reserves is 6-5, 320-pound Craig Wilson, a promising sophomore who saw most of his
time on special teams but is athletic enough to play at left tackle.
He'll start out the year behind Lewis, but he could move to the right
side if needed.
Watch Out For ... Allen. Last year Palmer was
supposed to be the big deal. He's still a good talent who'll be a
valuable backup, at the very least, but Allen showed last year that he's
the possible new tackle star.
Strength: Size. This is a massive group that
doesn't miss many meals. Block, at 290 pounds, is the lightweight of the
lot with eight of the ten players on the two-deep is 310 pounds or more.
They can all pound away for the running game.
Weakness: Pass protection. This was a major positive two
years ago, but with more passing attempts and with Juice Williams trying
to make more things happen with his arm, the line struggled a bit giving
up 25 sacks. With two young tackles, there could be more issues.
Outlook: This is a good-looking line with several
strong prospects and great upside with a slew of huge underclassmen who
can play. There will be some rocky points, but overall this should be a
good enough line to win with.