Football season is almost here! In just 34 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 kicking things off by taking a closer look at Ted Karras and the Fighting Illini offensive linemen.
Before we preview the Illinois offensive line, make sure to check out the details on the Piesman Trophy, presented by SB Nation. It's a real award with a real selection committee comprised of national college football writers. The Piesman will be awarded to the offensive lineman that makes the most un-lineman play this season.
Returning Starters: Ted Karras (SR), Joe Spencer (JR), Christian DiLauro (R-SO),
Key Losses: Alex Hill, Michael Heitz, Simon Cvijanovic (lol jk not really, but he was a starter so we kinda have to include him)
Other Returners: Austin Schmidt (JR), Nick Allegretti (SO), Chris Boles (SR), Pat Flavin (SR), Harry Black (SO), Chris O'Connor (SR)
Newcomers: Gabe Megginson, Adam Solomon, Zach Heath, Jordan Fagan, Connor Brennan, Zeke Martin, Jack Broeker, Max Marietti
Sadly, the most notable thing that happened with the offensive line this offseason didn't involve anyone on the current roster. As we all know, former left tackle Simon Cvijanovic made national news with a week long Twitter rant that detailed alleged player mistreatment by the coaching staff. His younger brother, Peter, supported his claims and also left the team.
Bringing the focus back to 2015, Illinois is down two starters in Alex Hill and Michael Heitz (three if you include Cvijanovic, who started most of the year). However, the Illini do bring in some very talented freshman including instant-impact candidates Gabe Megginson and Adam Solomon.
After waiting his turn for a few years, it's finally Teddy Karras' turn to be the anchor of Illinois' offensive line. Karras is coming off a torn ACL and MCL that he suffered against Ohio State in November, but he's back and should be 100% healthy by now. The senior right tackle was a very good player two years ago so it'll be huge for the team if he can build on his past performances this season. If he's able to do that, it's likely that he could be drafted next Spring.
Will the O-Line be able to keep Lunt on his feet?
The offensive line came under fire in 2014 and rightfully so because they couldn't keep a tree standing up in the pocket. Wes Lunt, Reilly O'Toole, and Aaron Bailey were sacked a combined 35 times last season. That's absurd. Plus that figure doesn't even include the number of hurries and knockdowns by opposing defenses. Now, it's likely that the line's poor performance was the result of a positional coaching change during the offseason. Former assistant A.J. Ricker left Illinois for Mizzou in early March and his replacement, Tom Brattan, wasn't hired until mid-July. With a year in the 'new' scheme, the group's on-field performance should improve.
Hopefully it does because the goal will be to protect Wes Lunt for an entire year. The junior quarterback has great pocket awareness, but he's still extremely immobile and susceptible to big hits on occasion. It's crucial for Lunt to stay healthy this time around because the Illini won't have the luxury of another Reilly O'Toole-type player that'll seamlessly step up in the event of another injury.
Christian DiLauro, Ted Karras, and Joe Spencer will anchor things on the right side and up the middle, but the protection of Lunt's blindside is still up in the air right now. Austin Schmidt and Nick Allegretti will probably open up camp as the favorites to land the starting left guard and tackle spots, but it wouldn't be out of the question to see incoming freshman Gabe Megginson fill one of those roles.
Projected Depth Chart
|First String||Second String|
|Right Tackle||Christian DiLauro||Connor Brennan|
|Right Guard||Ted Karras||Adam Solomon|
|Center||Joe Spencer||Zach Heath|
|Left Guard||Nick Allegretti OR Gabe Megginson||Chris Boles OR Pat Flavin|
|Left Tackle||Austin Schmidt||Chris O'Connor|
Again, left guard is the really the only spot that'll be up for grabs in training camp. It'll all come down to what the staff decides to do with Gabe Megginson. The freshman's natural position is guard, but it's possible that the coaches could experiment with him at tackle in order to keep Allegretti on the field. The problem with this scenario is that the he lacks the foot speed and quickness to play the position at this point in time.
Elsewhere, you can expect seniors Chris Boles, Pat Flavin, and Chris O'Connor to compete with Harry Black and a few of the other newcomers for backup roles.