Thursday, May 26, 2011
Hope and concern: Illinois
The Hope and Concern series marches on with the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Biggest reason for hope: QB Nathan Scheelhaase
Scheelhaase turned in a very impressive freshman season and ended it on a high note against Baylor in the Texas Bowl. By all accounts, he has continued to make strides during the winter and spring, particularly as a passer. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino has seen Scheelhaase making quicker decisions and getting the ball out faster to his receivers. Scheelhaase's ability as a runner is obvious, and Illniois likely will lean on him more after losing Mikel Leshoure to the NFL. There are some question marks at both running back and receiver, but the offensive line looks very solid. If Scheelhaase has time, he should be able to hurt defenses with both his arm and his legs.
Biggest reason for concern: Big holes in defensive front seven
Illinois loses a first-round draft pick in defensive tackle Corey Liuget and a third-round pick in linebacker Martez Wilson, not to mention valuable players like linebacker Nate Bussey and defensive end Clay Nurse. There are a lot of holes to fill, and Illinois needs players like Ian Thomas, Akeem Spence and Jonathan Brown to take their games to the next level. The secondary should be a strength, but defenses need to be led by the front seven and coordinator Vic Koenning spent much of spring practice looking for leadership. Illinois likely won't have a player as disruptive as Liuget on the interior, so it will take more of a collective effort from a defense that made strides last season but also had some inconsistent play.
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