Illinois spring wrap



2009 overall record: 3-9

2009 conference record: 2-6 (9th)

Returning starters

Offense: 5, defense: 6, kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

RB Mikel LeShoure, WR Jarred Fayson, LT Jeff Allen, DT Corey Liuget, DE Clay Nurse, LB Ian Thomas, LB Martez Wilson, CB Tavon Wilson

Key losses

QB Juice Williams, WR Arrelious Benn, LG Jon Asamoah, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, WR Jeff Cumberland, DE Doug Pilcher, S Garrett Edwards

2010 Schedule

Sept. 4 vs. Missouri

Sept. 11 Southern Illinois

Sept. 18 Northern Illinois

Sept. 25 Open

Oct. 2 Ohio State

Oct. 9 at Penn State

Oct. 16 at Michigan State

Oct. 23 Indiana

Oct. 30 Purdue

Nov. 6 at Michigan

Nov. 13 Minnesota

Nov. 20 vs. Northwestern (at Wrigley Field, Chicago)

Nov. 27 Open

Dec. 3 at Fresno State2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Mikel LeShoure* (734 yards)

Passing: Juice Williams (1,632 yards)

Receiving: Arrelious Benn (490 yards)

Tackles: Ian Thomas* (95)

Sacks: Clay Nurse* (5.5)

Interceptions: Garrett Edwards, Tavon Wilson*, Russell Ellington*, Doug Pilcher, Terry Hawthorne* (1)

Spring answers

1. Scheelhaase steps up: Illinois didn't announce its starting quarterback this spring, but anyone who watched practice or talked with the coaches knew that redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase took the lead. Scheelhaase is an exceptional athlete who shows good maturity and made big plays in several spring scrimmages. He still needs work as a passer but brings some dynamic skills to the backfield.

2. Jenkins emerges at receiver: A.J. Jenkins nearly left Illinois after a disappointing 2009 season. He comes out of spring practice as the team's No. 1 wideout and a potential successor to Arrelious Benn. Jenkins was "a changed man," according to head coach Ron Zook, and clicked immediately with new offensive coordinator/receivers coach Paul Petrino. He should be a major asset for the new starting quarterback this fall.

3. Defensive line builds depth: Illinois loses veteran defensive lineman Doug Pilcher but the squad should be better and deeper up front in 2010. Zook singled out defensive tackles Akeem Spence, Glenn Foster and Daryle Ballew for their play this spring. They join returning starters Corey Liguet and Clay Nurse, who participated in everything but full-contact drills this spring following shoulder surgery. Liuget and Nurse are natural leaders up front, and if Josh Brent returns from his academic struggles, Illinois could be very good along the line.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback: Jacob Charest isn't out of the race for the top job, but he'll need to close the gap with Scheelhaase during the summer and early in preseason camp. True freshman Chandler Whitmer is also in the mix, though the coaches say he's behind Charest and Scheelhaase. Illinois has some good leadership at other spots (receiver, defensive line, linebacker), but it must identify the No. 1 guy at the top position on the field.

2. Offensive line: Corey Lewis' torn ACL could be a big blow for a group adjusting to a new offense and new assignments for the guards and tackles (strong side/weak side). Illinois needs a strong preseason camp from Ryan Palmer, the favorite to fill the starting spot opposite Jeff Allen. The Illini need to run the ball with their talented backs and protect their young quarterbacks as well as they can, so building chemistry along the line is huge.

3. Safety squeeze: I still think Illinois' defense hasn't been the same since safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison departed following the 2007 season. The Illini look pretty solid at cornerback with Tavon Wilson, Terry Hawthorne and several others, but the safety spot remains a question mark. Travon Bellamy and Supo Sanni are the top options coming out of spring, but they must continue to be pushed, especially if Walter Aikens isn't reinstated.