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Monday, March 9, 2009
Position superlatives: Illinois

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois has a new offensive coordinator in Mike Schultz, but most of the team's holes come on the defensive side. The Illini lose two first-team All-Big Ten defenders (linebacker Brit Miller and cornerback Vontae Davis) and need to replenish several other spots following a subpar 2008 season.

Aside from a few vacancies on the line, things look very promising on offense. Here's a closer look at Illinois.

Strongest position -- Wide receiver/tight end

Key returnees: Junior Arrelious Benn, senior tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, senior Jeff Cumberland, sophomore A.J. Jenkins, senior Chris Duvalt, junior Jarred Fayson (Florida transfer), sophomore Fred Sykes

Key departures: Will Judson (21 receptions, 401 yards, 2 touchdowns)

The skinny: Illinois returns nine of the top 10 receivers from an offense that led the Big Ten in passing last fall. All-America candidate Arrelious Benn headlines a group that could light up opposing secondaries this fall. Senior quarterback Juice Williams will have plenty of options, as Fayson joins a corps that features a ton of young talent in Sykes and Jenkins. Other strong spots include quarterback and running back.

Weakest position -- Linebacker

Key returnees: Junior Martez Wilson, sophomore Russell Ellington, sophomore Ian Thomas

Key departures: Brit Miller (132 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 3 forced fumbles), Rodney Pittman (53 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble), Sam Carson (36 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble).

The skinny: The spotlight will be on Wilson this spring as he returns from a stabbing incident weeks after the 2008 season. If the immensely talented junior becomes a star, Illinois' defensive midsection should be stable. If he continues to fall short of expectations, the defense probably will, too. Miller certainly did his part last fall, and Illinois will be extremely young at linebacker aside from Wilson. The Illini also could struggle at cornerback and defensive end after losing several multiyear starters (Vontae Davis, Will Davis).