Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Spring breakout player: Illinois
By Brian Bennett
With spring practice officially history, we're taking a look at each Big Ten team and identifying a player who announced himself as a potential key performer this fall.
We're talking about guys who maybe haven't had big roles yet but displayed enough during the 15 spring practices -- and not just some fluky, spring-game performance against backups -- to factor heavily into their team's plans.
Part Two in the series turns to Illinois:
Spring breakout player: WR Mikey Dudek
If there's an early theme with this series, it's early enrollee receivers. On Monday, we highlighted Michigan's Freddy Canteen. And much like Canteen, Dudek came straight from high school to college football in January and proceeded to wow his team.
A three-star recruit, the Naperville, Ill., native excelled during spring practice with his precise route-running, soft hands and ability to create space for himself. At just 5-foot-11, he's a slot guy who has drawn comparisons to Wes Welker. He's a long way from reaching that level, but head coach Tim Beckman said after the spring game that if the season started now, Dudek would have a starting spot in the wide receiver group. (Dudek tweaked a hamstring and saw only limited action in the spring game).
"There are a lot of receivers who can't play inside," Illini offensive coordinator Bill Cubit told the Chicago Tribune earlier this month. "But he's more comfortable, a great route runner and the kids trust him. That's big with quarterbacks."
Dudek also spent time this spring working at punt returner. But receiver would be the place where he could make a bigger impact, as the Illini lost top targets Steve Hull, Ryan Lankford, Spencer Harris and Miles Osei off last year's team. Dudek could be starting next to Martize Barr and fellow newcomer Geronimo Allison.
Not bad for a guy who could be getting ready for his high school prom right about now.