Matt Silich: On Friday, Rench and I took a look at the offensive recruits of the 2015 Fighting Illini recruiting class. Even in a class heavy on offense, there are a couple of defensive guys I find intriguing. The current defense is relatively young across all the positions, so it's hard to find more than one or two guys who might be able to contribute last year. My question for you: what one player do you believe can have the biggest impact in 2015? Is there anybody who's going to see the field or are we going to be looking at a fleet of redshirts?
Aaron Rench: I'll be really surprised to see any of these defensive recruits become a starter in this first year. The coaches will be throwing out redshirts like parade candy. But that's not a bad thing at all -- it means we have depth and upperclassmen who are good enough to play right now. If you've followed Beckman's tenure here, you'll know this has been the most consistent problem since at least 2013, the year after Zook's recruits graduated.
Two years ago, the defense was the third-worst Power 5 team in total defense. Truly horrendous stuff. But as much as we didn't want to hear it, the only real remedy was time. We've finally reached the years where the defense isn't predominantly underclassmen. These new recruits won't be needed this year. They have time to learn and grow and prepare. That's the best kind of freshmen. It's how you build a perennially competitive program.
Silich: Having the ability to redshirt the majority of the freshmen is certainly a positive for the program. I think a lot of the intelligent Illini fans believe the best (only?) way to build a consistent contender at Illinois is through the Wisconsin way of team-building (play mostly juniors and seniors, use success to bring in slightly more talented recruits year-over-year, allow them time to develop). Now it's time for Tims Beckman and Banks to show they actually have a scheme that can work in the Big Ten. I have my doubts, but it's hard to get much worse than the last couple years, and the defense was able to stop some of the worse offenses in the Big Ten, which is at least some progress.
Of all the defensive recruits, the only one I think might be able to play some non-special teams snaps this year would be Sean Adesanya. He's a Top-100 JUCO recruit on the defensive line and the LEO position is in need of a back-up behind Dawuane Smoot this year following the graduation of DeJazz Woods. Adesanya is probably going to be a pretty raw athlete when he comes in, so it's a bummer that he committed after the early enrollee deadline, but he might be able to find his way onto the field once in a while.
Rench: Actually, (pushes nerd-glasses up his nose) Carroll Phillips will probably be sharing snaps with Smoot. Adesanya is Phillips from a year ago -- he's got a nice frame and some potent quickness but, as you said, he's pretty raw. With the addition of Adesanya, the LEO position might have the greatest depth of any single position on the defense.
Next to LEO, there is much less depth at defensive tackle. It could've been a major future flaw, but I get to say "could've been" because Beckman saved the day/future. The DT position was setting up to be fine for the next two years followed by a big void. Chicago-native Jamal Milan will solve that problem. He's a 3-star DT who will consume space and do so quickly. We won't likely see Milan for two years, which is good because he could still use to add some girth, but he should be a starter for two years of fall Saturdays.
Real quick question: What's your favorite food?
Silich: It's hard to beat good macaroni and cheese.
Rench: That's a really good favorite. Cheese and noodles? Always.
Speaking of favorites, let's talk about Trenard Davis. You remember, the Florida ATH that I admitted I really liked (for no real reason other than watching his game film)? Although he could end up being a (good) WR, I think he'd be best suited for playing on defense, particularly free safety. He's 6-foot-nothing and 195 pounds with time to grow. There are gazelles that can't change direction as fast as he can. He's got more experience playing on offense, but with agility and size like that he could be our best option at safety in a few years.
Also in this class is Patrick Nelson, another safety prospect who comes with a solid outlook. He will need time to grow into his full potential, but most college football teams would be happy to have him flying around their secondary.
I feel like I've talked a lot. It's your turn.
Silich: There's just a few things left to discuss on the defensive side of this class, most notably in the linebacker corps. The two new entrants here are Julian Jones and Justice Williams, both of whom probably won't see any playing time outside of special teams in their first year. Both of these guys are decent prospects who will contribute down the line, but all three linebacker positions have solid two-deeps which will be hard for a freshman to penetrate.
Young players have surprised before, but I feel pretty confident saying that few of these defensive recruits will participate early in their careers (that doesn't mean they won't be successful down the line). Any final recruits you want to touch on, Rench? Any over-arching thoughts on the class as a whole? I'm a big fan of the depth we added this season, even if I don't think there are more than two or three future studs.
Rench: The thing is with all of these recruits is that you wouldn't mind being wrong about them. There are guys that just joined that will likely not become mega studs, but if Nelson becomes a heat-seeking wreaking ball or Milan turns into a Balrog, I would be totally fine.
There is one thing that we haven't covered yet and it would make us lesser men not to mention it. This 2015 recruiting class has an average GPA of 3.14. That's phenomenal. Beckman has proven that he's just as interested in these players for their off-the-field futures as what they can do on the field. He's providing a launching-pad, one that could give prospective recruits another reason to choose Illinois.