Illinois has never really been a football program that reaches into the junior college ranks to round out its roster. For some coaches and schools, juco players just bring a negative stigma with them. A sense that while they may be good enough football players, they aren't good enough students, or maybe had some legal problems.
Those stigmas aside, though, bringing in some junior college players can help add depth to a depleted roster, and it could also help a coach looking for a quick fix to buy some time while trying to solve bigger problems.
Toward that end, Beckman said he hopes to bring in up to eight players in January so they can participate in spring practice, including an unspecified number of junior-college players.
‘‘There's depth issues,'' Beckman said. ‘‘We're not playing with a full deck of cards. We've done this at the other places I've been at - never with eight, but we've had six. Eight's a good number. [We'll] try to get them in here for spring football and build some depth.''
Beckman, who already has ruffled feathers with his recruiting at Penn State, indicated that the need for help outweighs Illinois' past reluctance to bring in junior-college players.
‘‘Illinois has not been known for junior-college players,'' Beckman said, ‘‘but we're going to actively see if there's some out there. We've got a class that isn't really there. We need to get that class with more people in it. The junior-college player would add to that class.''
And this is not an idea I'm against. I really don't think the Illini are that far off from being a respectable team again, and if our 2013 recruiting class is as good as Rivals (26th), Scout (36th) and MaxPreps (25th) think that it is, 2013 should be a much better season.
Looking at this year's team, there are nine senior starters. However, of those nine seniors, seven are on the defensive side of the ball. There's also Akeem Spence who is a junior, but it's possible that he could flirt with the idea of the NFL -- as could Jonathan Brown but I'd rather not think about that right now -- after the season is over. He flirted with the idea last season and he's scheduled to get his degree in December.
There may be no reason for Spence to return in 2013 unless he just doesn't like his draft grade.
With so many starters leaving on the defensive side of the ball after the season, the juco ranks could serve as a nice way to stem any kind of dropoff in play next season. I'm guessing that's the side of the ball Beckman would focus on.
On offense just about every skill position starter will return with only Graham Pocic and Hugh Thornton as seniors on the offensive line. This would allow new players on offense a year to practice in the system before being called upon to produce.
Though, having seen Aaron Bailey play, I won't lie and say I wouldn't mind seeing him in a real competition with Nathan Scheelhaase this spring, though that's a debate for another time.
The point is, that no matter the stigma attached to using the junior college ranks, Illinois' history with the method, or your personal feelings about it, it's likely the best approach for Beckman to take when it comes to his defense in 2013. Hopefully he can find a gem out there that can make a difference, too.