Aaron Rench: So how about those offensive pickups? If we're just looking at their current positions, this class has 15 to 17 offensive players depending on where ATH's like Trenard Davis and Desmond Cain end up (Julian Jones seems to suited to a role in the secondary). Out of 24 total players? Does that seem at least a little lopsided to you?
Matt Silich: It's definitely slanted towards the offense, which is both a good and bad thing. The offense has rather obviously been far superior to the defense in the past couple years, so it makes sense that talented offensive players would be more inclined to join the Illini at this point in time. The system that Bill Cubit has put in place has worked well and proven to recruits that Illinois has an offense worth joining. On the other hand, the defense hasn't really proven anything thus far, so it's unfortunate but understandable that recruiting is tougher on that side.
We're here to talk about offense though, so let's do that. Who do you think could come in and make a difference from day one on that side of the ball?
Rench: How about we start with the top prospect and the largest positional group of the day -- Gabe Megginson and the O-Line. I feel that it's fairly important to emphasize Megginson because I think he kinda gets taken for granted due to his early commitment. A 4-star offensive lineman who ranks in the Top 3 of all in-state talent is a gift sent from the Ghost of Grange. It should be the top story but since it's old news it falls down the list. I remember being simultaneously impressed and speechless for the better part of two days when I first heard this news. What does a recruit like Megginson bring to this program and to its future on the field?
Silich: Megginson is one of the better prospects in recent Illini history, but Illinois has some depth on the offensive line now. Freshmen offensive linemen are notoriously raw and in need of a redshirt, so I don't expect Megginson to bring anything to the table (other than an outstanding locker room presence) for at least a year or two. There are, however, plenty of JUCO offensive linemen in this class that could have an impact from the minute they get on campus (many of them are already on campus due to early enrollment). What skill position players do you see from this class that might be able to snag some playing time early? I have a couple names on my mind and I'm curious to see if you feel the same way.
Rench: Thought you'd never ask. Running backs are the new hot item on campus. Beckman found four of them floating around the States and they'll come in incredibly useful in the Fall. Josh Ferguson, the incumbent starter, will be leading the way in his final year, but behind him it's open for whoever can earn it. Devin Church transferred out so now the perfect opportunity has opened up for the new guys, which include JUCO Henry Enyenihi (Hen-ree En-yee-nee-hee, I'm practicing his name so I can flawlessly nail it and impress people with my pronunciation skills), D.C.-native Reggie Corbin, and 3-to-4-star recruit Dre Brown (Two notes: He's the only RB from Illinois in this class, and he's one letter away from having the same name as a well-respected basketball star). And that's without even mentioning the second biggest signee of the entire class.
Ke'Shawn Vaughn is a 4-star back out of Nashville, Tennessee who chose Illinois over West Virginia, Louisville, and Purdue. He's got some great tape if you like watching that (aka, if you want to watch your future Saturdays). If you're asking me, he's actually an escaped player from the conveyor belt that produces all those Wisconsin RB's. There's a chance he'll be our biggest impact freshman of the year due to his talent and the opening behind Ferguson. Also, he's probably going to get the #5 jersey number, which if you know your Illini traditions is the number given to our best running back.
Do those cover the names you were talking about? Or did I just blatantly steal your thunder?
Silich: Ha, you named a few that I was thinking about (Enyenihi, Vaughn) but not the entire crew. I like Enyenihi to contribute earlier than any other running back for a couple of reasons. Enyenihi is the only JUCO running back in the class, which gives him an edge in the experience department, and he is also one of two running backs (Brown the other) to enroll early. Enyenihi is already on campus working with the coaches and team, giving him a huge advantage.
There are a couple of other recruits that will have the chance to play early in Cubit's system. JUCO tight ends Andrew Davis and Ainslie Johnson could help fill the gaping hole left by the departures of Matt LaCosse and Jon Davis. Davis has the size to be a ridiculous match-up problem for opposing defenses and I'm eager to see if Cubit will look that way a bit more in the red zone than he did last season with LaCosse.
Rench: Yeah, the tight end position is definitely open. I'm sure Beckman and Cubit shed a tear each time Jon Davis and LaCosse walked across the graduation stage. Cubit loved to use those dudes whenever the offense reached the redzone. Davis and LaCosse had 15 and 14 receptions, respectively -- that's 8th and 9th most on the team -- and combined for 6 total touchdowns. Five of those were in the redzone. Big, not-as-fast guys are the perfect matchups for jump balls against puny corners. I'm not willing to guess who's going to be earn the second TE job (the first spot likely goes to junior Tyler White), but just know Cubit likes them for a certain role.
You know why the tight ends don't get many passes outside the redzone? Because Illinois is stacked like (blueberry) pancakes at wide receiver. (True fact: There are almost no foods in the natural world that are blue. This makes it semi-difficult for the common Illini fan to find a good orange-and-blue-colored food item for any watch party they host. Luckily, we have blueberries, M&M's, and Kool-Aid.) Although this class has only one pure WR, 6-foot-3.5 nearly-4-star Sam Mays from Texas. I'm really excited to see what he can do. He looks like he could be a #1 receiver when he gets older. There could be more joining him on offense, depeding on, as I said earlier, if Trenard Davis or Desmond Cain (who are cousins) become receivers.
Actually, I'll go ahead and admit that of all the recruits, Trenard Davis may be the most intriguing to me. I watched his tape after he committed and was just blown away by how he made everything look so easy. He's got athleticism coming out his ears. He is my favorite -- I am biased. Who is your favorite player so far, and why is it Trenard?
Silich: My favorite recruit has to be Gabe Megginson for his combination of on-field talent and hilarious off-field actions. For more on Gabe Megginson off the field, please refer to this Vine:
I fear that most people missed this yesterday. So as a public service... https://t.co/wkpxODuO3d— Robert (@ALionEye) February 6, 2015
That's just about all that needs to be said. The only position we haven't touched on yet is the quarterback position, which is pretty interesting now that Aaron Bailey has transferred. Jimmy Fitzgerald is the incoming recruit, but we don't know too much about him because he tore his ACL near the beginning of his senior football season. He's a bit of a wildcard, but Illini fans are hoping he'll fit into the third spot on the depth chart nicely behind Chayce Crouch.
Rench: That covers the offense. Beckman brought in some really nice talent, but unfortunately we probably won't get to see the majority of them for a few years. But that's not all bad, in fact it's a good thing. It allows them to build strength and size while working on their familiarity with the system, and of course they provide depth. This is a solid recruiting class that will benefit the team for years to come.
I guess Matt and I will be back on Tuesday to talk about the new defensive recruits. And don't worry, Trenard Davis can play on that side of the ball too.