It has been hard enough for Illinois to slow down Missouri's offense with a healthy secondary the past few years.
Now the Fighting Illini will try to stop Blaine Gabbert and co. without two projected starters.
Starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne will miss 3-6 weeks with a stress fracture in his foot, Illinois head coach Ron Zook said today. Hawthorne had a screw inserted after dealing with the injury in his fifth metatarsal.
"He had [the injury] as a junior in high school, and he didn't practice for a week," Zook told ESPN.com. "He's such a tough kid, he doesn't complain about anything. It bothered him a little bit during camp, but he never said anything, so he kept going. You love him because he doesn't ever complain, but if he would have said anything, maybe we would have been able to get away with just giving him a few days off. But he'll be fine and we'll be fine."
Hawthorne's injury comes just days after Illinois lost junior Supo Sanni, the projected starter at strong safety, for the season with a ruptured right Achilles' tendon.
Hawthorne was one of few bright spots for Illinois in 2009, starting five games as a true freshman and recording an interception and five pass breakups.
The recent losses will put defensive backs like Tavon Wilson, Travon Bellamy, Trulon Henry and Miami Thomas in the spotlight. Justin Green recently moved from running back to defensive back, and receivers Steve Hull and Jack Ramsey also could see some work in the secondary.
"You get concerned in the depth department," Zook said, "but Travon Bellamy's had a great camp and really has done well. We have Tavon Wilson playing at both places, corner and safety. And we're taking a look at Justin Green, who really has a chance to be a special player for us."