Fall camp has started for the Fighting Illini! During the past few preseasons, there have been a handful of position battles between newcomers and experienced upperclassmen--that won't be the case this time around. Most of the starting roles are just about set in stone so the competitions will primarily be for backup spots.
But which battles are the most important? Here are our top five heading into the season:
5. Backup Running back
The backup running back spot is completely up for grabs right now. Here's a blurb from our running back position preview:
We really have no idea at this point and the battle for the backup role will be one of the biggest storylines in Rantoul next month. Devin Church was in position to be the No. 2 option, but he transferred. So who will the coaching staff choose? There are several options.
Ke'Shawn Vaughn, a four-star recruit, is probably the most talented of the newcomers. Fellow freshman Reggie Corbin projects to be a change-of-pace back as he's a smaller, faster option (similar to Ferguson in a way). JUCO transfer Henry Enyenihi had a nice performance in the Spring Game, but he still has a ways to go before he can be consistently relied upon. Finally, there's the 'veteran' Kendrick Foster who has previous experience in the system. Dre Brown, who's another incoming freshman, also could've been competing for immediate playing time, but he went down with a torn ACL in May.
We'll have to wait and see who wins the battle in Rantoul. All four running backs have a different style, so it's going to depend on who Bill Cubit thinks will best fit into the offensive scheme. Expect the third and even fourth string to get decent playing time against Kent State.
4. Backup Quarterback
The only reason this battle isn't higher is because it's not for a starting job. However, its importance can rocket up to the top should Wes Lunt go down with another injury. Here's what we had to say about the spot in our quarterback preview:
Given his history, though, it's more than likely than not that Lunt will miss at least a couple of games. Will Chayce Crouch be ready if that happens? Again, Crouch was handpicked by Bill Cubit and he's already been in the system for a year. We obviously can't expect the redshirt-freshman to come in and perform like Reilly O'Toole in the event of an injury to Lunt, but he should be able to keep Illinois from becoming a complete laughingstock.
Chayce Crouch is the projected winner right now because he has a year of experience on the other competitors. If either freshman Jimmy Fitzgerald or Jeff George Jr. surprises in camp, it's possible one could take over as the primary backup. We haven't seen much of any of these guys yet, but expect to hear their names a lot over the coming weeks.
3. Left Guard
Now, on to the starters. The left guard is the only position on the offensive line that isn't set yet--it'll definitely be the biggest battle during camp. A tidbit from our offensive line preview on the battle:
Again, left guard is 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.
This is the last chance for seniors Chris Boles and Pat Flavin to gain a starting role. Perhaps this will motivate one of them to have a surprising senior year, just like center Jake Feldmeyer had in 2013. But it's possible that one of Adam Solomon or Gabe Megginson may push them both out of the way for immediate playing time.
STAR is the only position on the defensive side of the ball that isn't set yet. That shows how far Beckman has come since his first year, and it's part of the reason why we're so excited for the season. Here's a bit from our linebacker preview on the clash going down at STAR:
The battle will be between senior Eric Finney and sophomore James Crawford. Finney has backed-up at the STAR spot for the last two years and seems ready to claim the starting role. Crawford is only in his second year with the team, but he has some talent and it wouldn't be out of the question to see him start provided a good showing during training camp. Regardless, we'll probably see him in a more significant role.
Finney got the first team reps with the Orange Team, while Crawford was on the Blue Team (second team) during the three day split squad practices at Memorial Stadium. Don't read too far into this just yet because they'll both get ample reps with the 1's these next few weeks.
1. Outside Wide Receiver
This wasn't going to be a battle, but Justin Hardee went down with a broken foot last week. Someone is going to have to step up for at least the first three games.
There's a jumble of young receivers to sort through, but Dionte Taylor may be the early favorite after running with the first string on Friday. Marchie Murdock, Tyrin Stone-Davis, and Raphael Barr went with the Blue team (2 and 3rd string). Freshmen Sam Mays and Frank Sumpter--who came to Illinois as a cornerback--were also on the orange squad at the 4th string. He may just temporarily be playing the position since injuries are a concern.
Here's how we see things going into camp after the seeing the split squad roster:
|1st string||2nd string||3rd string|
|Outside WR||Dionte Taylor||Marchie Murdock OR Tyrin Stone Davis||Frank Sumpter|
Sam Mays and Raphael Barr are probably going to go over to backup Geronimo Allison so that's why they aren't listed above. This might be the most fun position battle to watch during camp, and it could very well go up all the way up until the season opener.