Football season is almost here! In just 37 days Illinois will be facing off against Kent State at Memorial Stadium. Over the next few weeks, The Champaign Room will be previewing the 2015 season with position previews, player profiles, biggest storylines, and more. Make sure to check back each day for something new.
First up is our position preview series, where we'll examine the strength and weaknesses of each group on the field. Today we'll be taking a closer look at Geronimo Allison and the Fighting Illini wide receivers.
A little update before we get started. Malik Turner, Dionte Taylor, and Tyrin Stone-Davis have all changed their numbers. Turner will now wear No. 11, Taylor No. 4, and Stone-Davis No. 15. Also, the Illini receivers will be sporting these sick gloves this season:
Over 200 boxes came in today. The new gloves are looking nice! pic.twitter.com/Se9LlP8Hjf
— Illinois Football EQ (@ILLequipment) July 8, 2015
Returning Starters: Geronimo Allison (SR), Justin Hardee (SR), Malik Turner (SO)
Key Losses: Martize Barr (graduation)
Other Returners: Mikey Dudek (SO, injured), Marchie Murdock (SO), Zach Grant (SR), Tyrin-Stone Davis (JR), Raphael Barr (SO), Dionte Taylor (JR)
Newcomers: Sam Mays (FR), Trenard Davis (FR), Desmond Cain (FR)
Illinois has been loaded at wide receiver for the past few years--that'll likely continue for Mike Bellamy's position group in 2015. Freshman sensation Mikey Dudek will be sidelined with a torn ACL until at least October, but Martize Barr was the only significant departure from a year ago.
Geronimo Allison and Justin Hardee are the two big returners, but the other options have also shown some promise. Malik Turner, the only freshman other than Dudek to start, showed flashes throughout the season and he'll have ample opportunity to improve as a sophomore. Another name to remember is Marchie Murdock; his only reception last year was a huge 3rd down conversion against Penn State, but he's been in the system for two years and he should get some more chances soon. Tyrin Stone-Davis, Dionte Taylor, and Zach Grant (high school teammate of Wes Lunt) didn't play last year, but they could each see some action this time around. Lastly, you have Raphael Barr (not related to Martize) who probably needs another year in the system before he sees playing time.
The Illini also added some high-caliber recruits at the position. The coaching staff received commitments from four-star Texas duo A.D. Miller and Sam Mays, but Miller proceeded to flip to Oklahoma. Mays, like Geronimo Allison, is a tall, skinny receiver who could come in and be an immediate deep threat. The Illini also landed cousins Desmond Cain and Trenard Davis closer to signing day. Right now they're both listed as receivers, but that could change in Rantoul as they should also get some reps in the secondary.
Allison had an interesting 2014 season. He played very well with Lunt during the non-conference season before going down with a minor injury in the middle of the season. Once back, there was a decline in his performance with Reilly O'Toole throwing him passes, but he returned to his old self in time for the team's bowl game.
With the injury to Dudek, Allison will be the No. 1 guy heading into Camp Rantoul. It'll be important for these two to quickly re-establish their chemistry because the 6'4 senior will be seeing a ton of targets. If he has a good year, don't be surprised to see Allison's name rise up NFL Draft boards.
Who will step up in the absence of Mikey Dudek?
I just talked all about Allison, but it's another senior who has a chance to really make some noise in Dudek's absence. That senior is Justin Hardee. He's never had to be 'the guy' until this year, but he has the tools to be a respectable option in the passing game.
I've personally always really liked Hardee; he had a surprising freshman year that was followed up by disappointing sophomore and junior campaigns. He's been at Illinois longer than anyone else at the position and he'll need to put it together as a full-time starter this year. Remember, Coach Bellamy is out for the first game (NCAA violation), so the younger guys will be looking at Hardee to be their leader.
Projected Depth Chart
|1st string||2nd string||3rd string||4th string|
|Outside||Geronimo Allison||Dionte Taylor||Sam Mays||Raphael Barr|
|Slot||Malik Turner||Zach Grant||Trenard Davis||Mikey Dudek (injured)|
|Oustide||Justin Hardee||Marchie Murdock||Turin Stone-Davis||Desmond Cain|
Side note: At least one of Cain/Davis will be on defense, but for now I'm just putting them on the depth chart.
Allison, Turner, and Hardee are the set in stone as the starters. After that there's a big jumble of guys all fighting for the backup spots. The rotation primarily consisted of six players with Dudek healthy last year and that number could increase to seven now, especially against Kent State. No matter how it shakes out, this mix of upperclassmen and underclassmen talent should equate to one of the team's strongest position groups.