We continue our series where we will review the performance of each Illinois player and see what might be in store for the Illini’s future.
Today we look at one of the youngest positions on the team, the offensive line. Illinois started three true freshmen and one redshirt freshman for most of the season. Playing an offensive line this young is almost unheard of.
The transition from high school to college is tough for all players, but it may be the toughest for offensive linemen who can no longer simply depend on their physical gifts to succeed. There is a large amount of technique needed to play offensive line. Most young players need a year or two to not only put on weight and gain strength, but to in some ways “re-learn” how to be a linemen to play at the power five level.
Illinois will hope the time it gave to the young linemen will pay off in the future. The Illini will need it to as they will need much more out of this group moving forward.
Solomon appeared in five games contributing largely on special teams, and made one start on the offensive line. In his final two years Solomon will continue be a special teams contributor and a backup for the offensive line.
Allegretti was the bright spot on this offensive line. Allegretti is a very tough player and a good road grading blocker. Some expected him to start at center, which he did in the beginning, but with the emergence of Doug Kramer he moved to guard to finish off the season. The junior started all twelve games with four starts at center and eight at guard. The interior lineman was named a All-Big Ten Honorable mention by both coaches and the media.
Allegretti is also a great student who has been given academic All-Big Ten honors for three consecutive seasons.
Allegretti does show how one good player doesn’t make an offensive line. It’s truly a unit that is only as strong as it’s weakest link, even with a strong link like Allegretti.
His leadership has and should continue to aid the young Illinois linemen in their development. He has one more year left to play, and can already be slotted into the strong side guard spot without any second thoughts.
After missing the first game with an injury, the true freshman Alex Palczewski started the final eleven games at guard for Illinois. Despite being a little underweight, Palczewski played well enough to earn an honorable mention for the All-Big Ten team from BTN.com.
He along with Larry Boyd and Vederian Lowe became the first ever trio of true freshman to start on the offensive line.
Palczewski needs to focus on getting more weight and getting stronger. Illinois needs better run blocking out of the interior offensive line as the team should be more dependent on the run with CAm Thomas likely taking over starting QB duties.
Kramer was a decent center for Illinois in 2018. The redshirt freshman wasn’t spectacular, and he wasn’t awful. Centers are key to the offensive line getting set with the correct assignments and vital in calling line audibles. Kramer was also an All-Freshman honorable mention by BTN.com along with Palczewski and Larry Boyd.
Kramer is the favorite to again start at center going into his sophomore season. I would like to see him put on some more weight and strength to help with run blocking.
In his senior year Fagan played in nine games with one start against Nebraska.
DiLauro played in every game in his senior year with eight starts. His streak of 31 consecutive starts ended in week one, and he finished his career with 38 total starts for the Illini.
DiLauro was an ok option for Illinois. However, it was clear that Lovie Smith and his staff wanted to try out younger options like Vederian Lowe and Larry Boyd over DiLauro, but as the young players struggled and some injuries DiLauro found his way back into the starting lineup.
Losing DiLauro to graduation and Megginson to a transfer hurts Illinois’ depth on the offensive line in a major way. Illinois is now left with only five players who have started more than one game for Illinois.
Stover took a redshirt in 2017 after joining the Illini as a preferred walk-on.
Martin started the opener against Ball State at guard, but the sophomore didn’t see much game action after week one. He has two years of eligibility left.
Megginson was the highest ranked recruit of the Tim Beckman era. The former four star recruit didn’t have the career at Illinois that he or the fans hoped he would have and after being passed up on the depth chart, Megginson decided to transfer. He will play his final two years for the Illinois State Redbirds.
The redshirt freshman appeared in two games and played as a “sixth lineman” against Nebraska. He should be a good depth piece for Illinois who could play his way into a spot on the line.
Trainer converted to a offensive lineman from a tight end. He didn’t see any game time, but Trainer has a great 6’ 7” frame that could put on a lot of weight. He could turn out to be a plus athletic tackle for Illinois. He has three more years left with the team.
Gavin appeared in one game on special teams against Iowa in his redshirt freshman year. Gavin was a relatively high recruit and still has three more years at Illinois.
Boyd was a high three star recruit out of Trinity Catholic in St. Louis. Boyd was already huge man as a true freshman at 6’ 6” 340 pounds. Now how much of that 340 pounds was good, functional weight for Boyd is questionable, but his is at a great starting point going into his second year in the Illinois strength and conditioning program.
It was an up and down season for Boyd. He started nine games in total at the weakside offensive tackle posistion. He was inconsistent in both pass blocking and run blocking, and particularly struggled with fast edge rushers. There were flashes, however, a few drives here and there were Boyd was very solid.
He still has a ways to go in his development, particularly with his pass blocking technique. He has great potential with his size and will almost certainly be starting at tackle from day one in 2018.
Lowe was the second true freshman offensive lineman for Illinois who is listed at 340 pounds along with Boyd. The size of these recruits is a clear indicator of where Lovie Smith wants to go with this offensive line. He wants a strong, power blocking unit and he hopes that Lowe and Boyd can be the anchors of it at the tackle spots.
However, Lowe really struggled in his freshman season. He made his debut against Iowa and started seven total games at tackle. Lowe was overmatched for much of 2017. He was slow of foot and was beaten often by his defender without getting an hand on them.
At the start of the season I would speculate that the coaching staff wanted to redshirt Lowe, which is why we didn’t see Lowe in the first four games. But with the players above Lowe on the depth chart struggling, and as it became obvious this was going to be an incredibly tough season, they decided to give him a shot hoping the expereince would fast track his development going into the 2018 season.
Playing time helps young players develop, but is playing time where a player is overwhelmed and playing poorly really helpful? We will see how it pays off for Lowe and the Illinois offensive line.
I still have huge hope for Lowe. One thing that cannot be taught is size and he has it. With an offseason in the strength and conditioning program along with more practice time, Lowe could improve greatly. I think a move inside to guard could suit him in the future, but right now it look as if he will be the starting strong side tackle with little depth behind him.