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Thursday, June 14, 2012
Home run summer: Illinois

By Adam Rittenberg

Our series continues looking at a player or a group of players from each Big Ten team who needs a home run type of summer before preseason camp begins. Who needs to hit it out of the park in preparation for the season?

For previous entries, click here.

In the batter's box: Illinois

Who needs to step it up: Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase

Aside from Denard Robinson and Taylor Martinez, no Big Ten quarterback boasts more starting experience than Scheelhaase, who has held the top job for the past two seasons. New Illinois coach Tim Beckman has said Scheelhaase is his No. 1 guy right now, although backup Reilly O'Toole also is expected to take some snaps. After the struggles Scheelhaase and the entire offense had in the second half of the 2011 season, it's important for Scheelhaase to re-establish himself as the undisputed leader of the offense. He's learning a new system, which always brings challenges, but his skill set as a dual-threat quarterback with the ability to make throws on the move should help him in the spread. He doesn't have many proven weapons around him, and we saw what happened last season when defenses started focusing on star wideout A.J. Jenkins. But Scheelhaase can make those around him better, and it starts with accuracy on the short to intermediate routes, which spur the spread offense. Scheelhaase raised some concerns in the spring game by completing just 11-of-26 pass attempts in wet and blustery conditions. Some question his arm strength, and others wonder how he'll fare without Jenkins on the field. As veteran columnist Loren Tate put it in April, "To be good, Illinois needs Scheelhaase to step up." A strong summer from the junior could go a long way to getting Illinois' offense back on track.