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Position battles: Illinois Fighting Illini

2/10/2015

Spring practice is just around the corner in the Big Ten. Michigan and Northwestern will be on the field before the end of this month, and the rest of the league will follow shortly after.

With that in mind, we're taking a look at some spring position battles to watch for each Big Ten team. We'll key on two to three spots for each squad and give you the outlook.

First up: Illinois.

1. Safety: Senior starting strong safety Zane Petty is gone from last season's team, and the free safety spot featured a season-long competition between Taylor Barton and Clayton Fejedelem. One of those latter two could move over to the strong safety spot. Jevaris Little backed up Petty last season and will look to step forward. Keep an eye on Darwyn Kelly, who redshirted and then was injured last season but could be a major factor if healthy.

2. Tight end: Seniors Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse were a big part of the offense in 2014 and now must be replaced. Junior Tyler White is the heir apparent on the roster, but Illinois also brought in a pair of junior college tight ends who enrolled: Andrew Davis and Ainslie Johnson. They didn't come to sit on the bench, and the Illini offense likes to use multiple tight ends.

3. Punter and kicker: Specialists don't get a lot of attention in the spring, as they're often off on on their own fields and nobody is thinking much about field goals and punts in March. But the Illini kickers need some extra attention this spring. Field goals were an unfortunate misadventure most of last season, and the two guys who rotated in that role, David Reisner (6-of-11 last season) and Taylor Zalewski (3-of-6), will battle it out again this spring. Justin DuVernois was one of the best punters in the Big Ten as a senior. Ryan Frain, who has one career punt, will try to replace him and also could be a candidate at placekicker. As always with these positions, some unheralded walk-ons could get a shot if they impress at practice.