Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The touchdown thing bothers Arrelious Benn. The numbers just don't add up.
Few players have accomplished more than Benn has in two seasons at Illinois. He won Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2007 and followed it up with first-team All-Big Ten honors last season. The Big Ten blog has given Benn some love as well, naming him as the league's top player. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Benn led the league in receiving yards (1,055) at the end of the regular season and finished second overall. He tied for third in receptions (67) and finished fourth in all-purpose yards (139 yards per game). Benn has 121 receptions with the Fighting Illini, but oddly only five have gone for touchdowns. It's a stat that gnaws at him, and one he expects to increase this fall.
Benn spent some time this week talking touchdowns, his increased leadership role, Illinois' stacked receiving corps and his expectations for Illinois after a disappointing 5-7 season last fall.
When you looked back at last season, how did you grade yourself?
Arrelious Benn: When you look back on the season, you always feel you could have done better. I wouldn't say it's one overall thing. Everything I did, I feel as though I could have done better.
Was it just a matter of consistency? Some games it seemed like the passing attack really cranked up, and other times you couldn't get on the scoreboard?
AB: Yeah, we did horrible in the red zone. I don't know if that's on us or whatever, but we had a lot of opportunities to put up points and put ourselves in a good position, but we hurt ourselves because of turnovers and mistakes and penalties.
Has the touchdowns thing been a little annoying for you? You've got a ton of catches, a ton of yards and only five touchdowns in two years. Is that a number that needs to go up?
AB: Without a doubt. I'm not going to lie to you. As far as my concern about it, I'm not concerned. I'm just out here to do everything I need to do for the team so we can win. My individual success means nothing.
Has it been puzzling why you haven't gotten in the end zone more?
AB: Yeah, it's been puzzling. I catch the ball and I have to fight off half the defenders. It's going to be tough to get in the end zone when all the eyes are on you.
Do you expect to have the same treatment this year, a lot of double team? Or will it be harder to double team you with guys like Jarred [Fayson] joining the mix?
AB: In the beginning, I think I'll get double-teamed a lot, but as the season goes on, I'm going to get the one-on-one coverage and get open a lot. My touchdowns should go up. But as far as having Fayson in there, he's going to open a lot of things up for me.
A lot of you have mentioned Jarred even though he hasn't played a game for Illinois yet. What will he add to the group?
AB: He's going to add the same aspect I'm adding. He's going to come out and make big plays and be a playmaker. He's going to get a lot of attention.
How do you feel about the wide receivers group as a whole? A lot of guys are back to surround Juice [Williams].
AB: I feel real strongly about our guys. I don't look at us as receivers. I look at us as big, physical guys. In high school, my coach always told me, 'You're like a linebacker playing receiver. You have to have a defensive mentality playing receiver.' As far as the group of receivers we have, we have a lot of physical playmakers.
I know you're focused on this season, but a lot of people are wondering what you're going to do next year as far as the NFL. Is that just something you have to deal with, or are you pretty locked in to this year?
AB: I'm pretty locked in to this year. I know I'm going to have to deal with the questions. That's something I'm going to have to deal with all year, just giving my true answer. Something like that, you grow up dreaming about it. It's always going to be in the back of your mind. But that's not my focus right now. I'm focused on this year, getting through [camp] Rantoul and then Missouri on Sept. 5.
This is your third year working with Juice. Have you guys gotten even closer, and what are you working on together?
AB: We won't leave the stadium until like 10 o'clock because we'll be throwing and stuff. We work on everything: the timing, where I want the ball, certain situations. Like you said earlier, touchdowns.
So touchdowns are definitely on your mind. Do the other guys give you grief about that?
AB: You know what's so weird about that? No one gives me grief about that because my big plays make up for it. If I wasn't making big plays and catching the ball and getting the team down the field, I'm pretty sure they'll give me grief about it. But as far as me making the big plays and doing what I'm going to do, they don't give me grief for it.
Then you have a freshman like Jason Ford come in and score all these touchdowns (8) last year. You've got to take some away from him, right?
AB: Yeah, man, you've got to. But he's at the running back position. It's way easier. If my line isn't blocking for me, Juice isn't on point, I'm nothing. All he needs to do is get that pitch.