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Illinois News: Mike Phair impressed with talent on defensive line

Illinois' new co-defensive coordinator is impressed, but will the talent translate to the field?

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

"I like our guys up front. We have a ways to go, but there is some young talent."

- Illinois Co-Defensive Coordinator Mike Phair via Tom Dienhart, BTN

Will Illinois' defense show some improvement this season? New co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Mike Phair seems to think so. In a Q&A with BTN.com, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant talked up senior defensive end Jihad Ward while providing some insight into his decision to join the Illini back in February.

Perhaps more importantly, though, he revealed that the play calling duties have been "very open" between him and Tim Banks. Having co-defensive coordinators will be an ongoing experiment, but surely the results can't be any worse than last season. In 2014, the Illinois defense ranked among the worst in the country. The team was 109th in total yards allowed (456.4 yards per game), 107th in points allowed (34.0), and 115th in rushing defense (239.2 yards per game).

"The [Illinois] coach with the highest earning potential in a year? Not Tim Beckman or John Groce. It's men's golf coach Mike Small."

- Johnathan Hettinger, The News-Gazette

Surprising, right? The News-Gazette obtained some 'side-money' tidbits while reviewing documents that were made available via a Freedom of Information request. It turns out that Mike Small can make more than $1.8 million by entering tournaments like the U.S. Open, Callaway Invitational, and PNC National Championship.

The documents also detailed that Tim Beckman made $200 for a speaking arrangement in 2014. So if you're looking at low-cost speakers for your next event--you know who to call.

"There’s no doubt that a schedule can only have a limited impact on a team, but this is the perfect mix of quality and respectable opponents to give Illinois about the best shot it can get to qualify for the 2016 NCAA Tournament."

- Tomas Beindit, Today's U

Illinois' 2015-16 non-conference schedule may not have many marquee games, but that's what makes it so perfect. Whether we like it or not, team RPI has a huge impact come Selection Sunday and Illinois' schedule has guaranteed themselves several quality games in Notre Dame, Providence, Missouri, and either Iowa State or Virginia Tech; contests against programs like North Dakota State and Yale will also help.

Including the five 'home' games in Springfield, the Illini will be playing an incredible eight neutral site contests. That could yield a massive RPI boost if the team can take care of business.

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