To see all previous roster breakdowns, click here.
It’s time to switch up the roster preview to the defense. When Illinois has been successful, the defense has always been one of the top units in the Big Ten. As a defensive coach, it is the area Lovie Smith will be expected to excel in. He will have to do it with a defense facing a lot of roster turnover and an abundance of young players.
Illinois’ defense is facing the tough task of replacing five seniors and their five top players on the defensive line. The Illini defense was effective for small stretches in 2016, and that was due to the play of the upperclassmen, led by Dawuane Smoot and Carroll Phillips, who are now both on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ roster.
The posistion is now very young and inexperienced for Illinois. Out of the 15 players, seven are true freshman, two players are juniors and only one is a senior. This is a posistion that really suffered from the Tim Beckman era of recruiting.
James Crawford - #5, SR, 6’ 2”, 225 lbs
Crawford started his Illinois career as a safety, and he will finish it as the only senior defensive lineman. He is very undersized, but he should be able to lean on his superior speed and athleticism as an edge rusher.
Christion Abercrombie - #34, RS-Fr, 6’ 1”, 225 lbs
Abercrombie was a high school linebacker in Atlanta, but he is now a defensive linemen for Illinois. He took a redshirt his freshman year.
Sean Adesanya - #47, JR, 6’ 3”, 250 lbs
Adesanya transferred to Illinois as a sophomore out of Eastern Arizona Community College, but has yet to see the field for Illinois due to injury. Adsanya should be starting for Illinois this season at DE.
Jamal Milan - #55, SO, 6’ 3”, 300 lbs
Milan played in 10 games last year with five starts. He forced two fumbles against Rutgers, and recorded 3.5 tackles for a loss. Milan will be counted on heavily this season to help man the middle for the Illinois defensive line.
Tito Odenigbo - #94, JR, 6’ 3”, 310 lbs
Tito Odenigbo may win the title of my favorite name on the roster this year. Tito Odenigbo (oh-DEN-uh-bo) is so fun to say. Illinois fans will be hoping to hear game announcers give their best shot on the pronunciation this year as he will playing a big role as a Junior after playing in 11 games as a sophomore.
Kenyon Jackson - #95, SO, 6’ 0”, 290 lbs
Jackson worked his way up to being a starter for the Illini in 2016 before missing the last two games with an injury. He has a clear path to be starting again this season along with Jamal Milan, but there are plenty of players to compete with him for playing time.
Tymir Oliver - #96, SO, 6’ 4”, 285 lbs
He played most on special teams during his freshman year. While he should continue in that role, he could play a part in the defense in his sophomore season.
Kevin Hinders - #48, FR, 6’ 5”, 235 lbs, Champaign, Ill.
Hinders is now the only local product on the Illinois roster. The walk-on comes to the Illini after playing at St. Thomas Moore High School in Champaign.
Kendrick Green - #53, FR, 6’ 4”, 300 lbs, Peoria, Ill.
Green had an impressive offer list including schools such as Iowa, Minnesota, Arkansas, Notre Dame, and Ole Miss. Green helped Peoria to a 5A state title in Illinois, and he will almost certainly be playing for Illinois as a true freshman, and may be a key part of the rotation from day one.
Lere Oladipo - #90, FR, 6’ 3”, 265 lbs, Huntley, Ill.
Oladipo had other Big Ten offers from Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan State and Penn State. Oladipo was a consensus top 20 recruit in the state of Illinois and he should feature in the defensive line rotation at some point this year. Recruiting strong in-state players from going to other Big Ten programs is vital in the program’s current rebuilding efforts.
Jamal Woods - #91, FR, 6’ 2”, 255 lbs, Hueytown, Ala.
The Alabama native took the chance to come to Illinois as his only power five offer. He played strong side defensive end in high school, but will likely be playing defensive tackle in college.
Isaiah Gay - #92, FR, 6’ 3”, 215 lbs, Nashville, N.C.
Gay was the last member of the 2017 class to commit to Illinois. He had 17 sacks as a senior in High School, but will need to add weight and strength for the Big Ten level. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him move to linebacker at some point.
Bobby Roundtree - #97, FR, 6’ 5”, 245 lbs, Largo, Fla.
Roundtree was heavily recruited by Indiana as well, but choose to come to Illinois. He will be looking to join the group of great Illini defensive linemen from Florida, with members such as Corey Liuget and Akeem Spence.
Deon Pate - #98, FR, 6’ 3”, 245 lbs, Jacksonville, Fla.
Pate had 15 sacks in his final year at Trinity High, where he won four straight state titles. He is the one of three DL recruits from the state of Florida, a key state for Lovie Smith’s recruiting strategy so far. He should feature in the rotation as a freshman.
Owen Carney Jr. - #99, 6’ 3” 240 lbs, Miami, Fla.
It’s probably not a coincidence that the three Florida recruits choose consecutive numbers. Carney Jr. had the best offer list of any Illinois freshman with at least one offer from every power five conference. His final list included LSU, Florida State, Tennessee, and Louisville among others. He enrolled at Illinois early in January which allowed him to participate in spring practices. That gives him a leg up on the other freshman for playing time.
The major strength for the defense last season was the defensive line, but with five departing players it looks to be a possible weak spot this year. There will be no shortage of offensive lines that will be looking to take advantage of a young group.
There may be a lot of inexperience in this group, even with the returning players, but there is also promise in the freshmen. It’s hard to say who will be contributing this year. We should see a heavy rotation early as the coaching staff will look for players to separate themselves and earn playing time.
There is a lot of competition to get on, and to stay on the field, with this group. Let’s hope this brings out the best in them.