The Illini started to get defensive, real defensive in the 2010 Texas Bowl. In that 38-14 trouncing of Robert Griffin III and Baylor, they held RG3 and the Bears in check.
The man who would win the Heisman trophy and become the #2 overall pick in the NFL Draft the very next season was out of rhythm, out of sync versus the Illini in Houston. And that D carried over into 2011, when they Illini had a top 10 national defense.
A lot of that was the personnel, a lot of it was coordinator Vic Koenning, who unfortunately had to move on when Ron Zook was replaced by Tim Beckman.
Can they keep it going this fall, despite the coaching changes?
“We’re going to build our defense around guys like the Mike Buchanans, the Akeem Spences, the Glenn Fosters, Justin Staples, Kenny Cunard has had an outstanding spring, we’re gonna continue to utilize what they do in rushing the passer, try to showcase them the best way we possibly can,” Coach Beckman said this spring.
Spence plays the same position as Corey Liuget who was a one year wonder and parlayed his big season into being drafted by the San Diego chargers in 2011.
Similarly, Whitney Merciless came out of nowhere to win the Ted Hendicks award as the nation’s best defensive end (he also garnered all-american honors for that position) led the nation in sacks and set a college football record for most forced fumbles in a season. He then got drafted 26th overall by the Houston Texans.
DB Tavon Wilson also came out of nowhere to become a second round pick by the New England Patriots. So who’s next to go from obscurity to stardom? Maybe Jonathan Brown who was named to the Lott impact trophy award watch list? He had a special sophomore season, he just needs to not knee opposing players in the groin (like he did to Patrick Ward from Northwestern, and got suspended for it) he needs to stay on the field. Maybe he’ll have a big year and jump to the NFL.
Beckman will need play-makers on D to keep this momentum going.
“Big Ten football is about grinding it out, it’s about being physical,” he said.
Cornerback Terry Hawthorne is a very elite player, involved in a move to wide receiver now, how will it affect his performance? It’s never a good sign when you have coaches “drafting” players from one side of the ball to the other, at least for the unit that’s getting the player. Especially in Champaign, remember Kelvin Hayden in 2003? He was great, but that team was atrocious.
He went on to be a a great college football defense back, got drafted early and had a fine NFL cornerback career, clinching Super Bowl XLI for the Indianapolis Colts over the Chicago Bears with his pick six of Rex Grossman.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, MSN and Fox Sports
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