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Oh, what could have been Patrick Nelson

Transfer of team leader cripples depth at defensive back.

NCAA Football: Illinois at South Florida Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a year makes.

It was this time last season we seemed to be pouring adulation upon our redshirt freshman safety as the next big thing. Alas, not all feel-good stories have a happy ending.

Pat Nelson announced his intentions to transfer on Nov. 28. His preceded a mass exodus of former Tim Beckman/Bill Cubit recruits who decided to search for greener pastures.

This one, to me anyways, might hurt Illinois the most. Patrick Nelson wasn't a Jamal Adams or Eric Berry at safety, but he was a solid, dependable player who could lay the wood in run support. His coverage skills were lacking, but his overall leadership was a welcome sight to a team rebuilding.

Part of his choice to leave seems to have stemmed from disagreements with the coaching staff regarding fit and ceding playing time over the course of the season. The slog of the Big Ten season saw tempers flare and feelings hurt as Lovie Smith and his staff paved the way for younger players to take the reins. Players like Nelson and teammate Tre Watson presumably saw it as a slap in the face.

His transfer ravages what was already a depleted position in the two-deep. Maybe one of these sophomores or incoming freshman can fill the gap.

No doubt he'll land on his feet doing what he loves, but you have to wonder what could have been. It seems like we were saying similar things about our hard-hitting safety prospect not so long ago.