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2009 Illinois Preview - Offense
Illinois QB Juice Williams
Illinois QB Juice Williams
Posted Jun 25, 2009 2009 Preview - Illinois Fighting Illini Offense

Illinois Fighting Illini

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Illinois Preview | 2009 Illinois Offense
- 2009 Illinois Defense | 2009 Illinois Depth Chart
- 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 firefight.

Returning Leaders
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 Corey Lewis
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


Projected Starter: 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.
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.
Rating: 9

Running Backs

Projected Starter: 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 teams.

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, too.
Strength: 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.
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 home runs.
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.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters: 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.

6-0, 185-pound 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.
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.
Rating: 8.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: 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 protection.

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.

6-7, 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.
: 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.
Rating: 7.5