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It doesn’t matter what level of football you are playing or what system you run, if a team doesn’t have a productive offensive line, they will almost never have a good offense.
Over the last few seasons, the Illinois offensive line has struggled against Big Ten Opponents. The Illini are bringing back three returning starters, but out of the 14 linemen, 8 are freshmen and 3 are sophomores.
We may see some inconsistent play out of such a young group, but there are a few players who may surprise fans this year.
Adam Solomon - #52, SO, 6’ 6”, 310 lbs
Solomon played in 8 games last season, primarily on special teams. Because of the question marks along the offensive line, it can’t be ruled out that he may see playing time with the starting unit.
Nick Allegretti - #53, JR, 6’ 4”, 325 lbs
Allegretti could be moving to center to replace the departed Joe Spencer. He was named to the Rimington Award Watch List, which is given to the nation’s top center each year. It’s seems possible that he may actually be playing at guard again, but he may feature at both interior spots for Illinois. He has started in 23 games in his career, and Illinois will be looking for him to provide solidarity and leadership to a young group of offensive linemen.
Doug Kramer - #65, R-FR, 6’ 2”, 300 lbs
Kramer — who was rated a two star recruit —took a redshirt last season, but is now in the mix to be the starting center for Illinois.
Jordan Fagan - #66, SR, 6’ 6”, 300 lbs
Fagan joined the Illini last season as a juco commit to help provide depth on the offensive line. He saw playing time in 7 games, and started once. He will provide depth again this season as he has expereince playing both tackle and guard.
Christian DiLauro - #67, SR, 6’ 5” 300
DiLauro has made 31 straight starts at OT for Illinois, and is the most experienced linemen for the Illini. He is one of three returning starters for Illinois along with Allegretti and Gabe Megginson. Illinois will need a big season out of all three if they hope to improve the offense in 2017.
Zeke Martin - #71, SO, 6’ 5”, 300 lbs
He has yet to play a down of football for Illinois. The former consensus three star recruit has as good of a chance as anyone to find playing time with a smaller than average group of linemen.
Gabe Megginson - #72, SO, 6’ 5”, 305 lbs
Megginson was one of the biggest recruits for Illinois Football in recent memory. The former blue-chip recruit started seven games for the Illini in his redshirt freshman season. He mostly featured at LG last season, but he may be moved to LT this year. Like most freshmen, he was inconsistent last year, and he will need to mature his play as Illinois will be counting on him a lot this season.
Jake Cerny - #73, R-FR, 6’ 5”, 305 lbs
Scout and 247 listed Cerny as the #3 linemen in Michigan. He played tackle in high school and also played basketball.
Andrew Trainer - #74, R-FR, 6’ 7”, 265 lbs
Trainer was moved from TE to O-Line during training camp. He will not likely play much this season and will have to focus on bulking up if he wants to start for Illinois. Due to his experience at TE, he could be an interesting piece for Illinois to use on goal line and short yardage situations as an extra blocker and eligible receiver.
Kurt Gavin - #75, R-Fr, 6’ 5”, 295 lbs
Gavin was the #6 ranked linemen out of the state of Illinois in 2015. Gavin only lettered two years at Lincoln Way-East High School, and could be coached up to play guard or tackle.
Alex Palczewski - #63, FR, 6’ 3”, 285 lbs, Mount Prospect, Ill.
Palczewski also had offers from Vanderbilt and Syracuse, but choose to stay in-state to play for Illinois. He was a part of the wrestling team, and water polo team while in High School. It’s always a great sign for an offensive linemen to participate in wrestling, but not exactly sure what to make out of the water polo, but, hey, it can’t hurt.
Palczewski has been practicing with the first-team unit at guard during training camp at some points. I wouldn’t predict that he will be a part of the line week one, but I do think he will see the field at some point during his freshman season.
Jake Stover - #68, FR, 6’ 3”, 295 lbs, Chicago, Ill.
Stover is a preferred walk-on, who played his high school ball at St. Rita.
Larry Boyd - #76, FR, 6’ 6”, 360 lbs, St. Louis, Mo.
That’s not a typo, Boyd is 360 pounds as a true freshman. Size like that will instantly put him in competition to be starting from day one. He has huge potential as a road-grade blocker at either guard or tackle.
Boyd also had offers from Wisconsin, Purdue, Iowa State, Missouri, Kansas State, Minnesota and Arkansas. Boyd has huge potential, but offensive line can be a extremely tough transition from High School to College. In the Big Ten you cannot just rely on size and strength like in high school, you must have good technique and skill or you will be eaten alive. We will see if OL Coach Luke Butkus can have the big guy ready to play this season.
Vederian Lowe - #79, FR, 6’ 5”, 340 lbs, Rockford, Ill.
Lowe may be 340 pounds, but he is only the second biggest lineman that Illinois has brought in. Lovie Smith and his staff are sending a strong message about what they want the future of the Illinois offense to be with these two recruits — one that is base on a power running game and controlling the line of scrimmage.
Lowe has yet to practice due to an ongoing injury making it likely he will get a redshirt this season.
Most successful offenses — no matter the system — have two things in common: a good offensive line, and an experienced offensive line. Unfortunately, Illinois has a lot of question marks this season.
Unless Illinois get some great play out of some young players — which isn’t impossible with a good coach like Luke Butkus leading the way — the line could be plagued by inconsistent play and rotating starters.
This will be the key area that Illinois will need to fix as they go through another rebuild. There is a lot of hope with two promising freshmen coming in, but as for this season, the line may be the area that holds the Illinois offense back.
However, DiLauro is an experienced player, and Allegretti and Megginson are both quality Big Ten players. While one weak area on a line can be detrimental for a team — and Illinois could potentially have two — Coach Butkus can lead the way to developing the young players into future quality starters.