Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Spring superlatives: Illinois
By ESPN.com staff
The spring superlatives series, which examines the strongest and weakest positions for each Big Ten team, wraps up with Illinois.
After a tumultuous offseason, the Fighting Illini have no shortage of issues this spring. But there aren't as many glaring holes as you might think. Illinois needs to identify a capable quarterback or two, replace wideout Arrelious Benn and fill some gaps on both lines. The defense should be stronger with coordinator Vic Koenning and the return of linebacker Martez Wilson from a neck injury.
Strongest position: Running back
Weakest position: Quarterback
- Key returnees: Mikel LeShoure (108 carries, 734 rush yards, 5 TDs); Jason Ford (97 carries, 588 rush yards, 4 TDs); Justin Green (19 carries, 88 rush yards, 2 TDs); Troy Pollard (11 carries, 67 rush yards).
- Key losses: Daniel Dufrene (63 carries, 277 rush yards, 3 TDs); quarterback Juice Williams (143 carries, 507 rush yards, 3 TDs).
- The skinny: Illinois' offense had its problems in 2009, but the running back position wasn't one of them. The Illini return one of the Big Ten's best tandems in LeShoure and Ford. An honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, LeShoure exploded for 184 yards and two touchdowns on only just 11 carries in the season finale against Fresno State. Ford has 12 rushing touchdowns in his first two seasons and should be a force in the red zone this fall. Green could be primed for a breakout season, though he'll have a tough time taking carries away from LeShoure or Ford. Illinois boasts depth here but needs the offensive line to step up.
- Key returnees: Jacob Charest (28-for-56 passing, 382 pass yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs); Eddie McGee (25-for-47 passing, 303 pass yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs).
- Key losses: Juice Williams (131-for-227 passing, 1,632 pass yards, 12 TDs, 7 INTs, 507 rush yards, 4 TDs).
- The skinny: Say what you want about Williams, but he left Illinois as one of the most productive players in team history, not to mention a four-year starter. His departure leaves things totally wide open at quarterback for new offensive coordinator Paul Petrino. Charest showed some promise in limited work last year, and McGee gets one final shot at quarterback after being shifted to wide receiver for most of 2009. If those two don't work out, Illinois will look to redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase or true freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee. Don't be surprised to see the Illini use multiple quarterbacks this fall.