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2018 Illinois Football Roster Review: DBs

A very confusing year for the defensive backfield with lack of consistency in play or positions.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The final roster review piece brings me to the defensive backfield.

Illinois gave up far too many big plays this season, and the first place to look when you are giving up big plays is the defensive backfield whose No. 1 goal is to not let people get behind them and give up huge plays. There is a reason they are called safeties.

Bennett Williams being kicked-off the team left a hole in the defense that was never filled. Illinois tried to use several different players at safety and corner, and move players between positions often, but was never able to find the right lineup.

There were many struggles for the DBs. Blown coverages and assignments were far too common. The run-game was a mess for the safeties. Some of this is on the youth, but defensive back is one of the easier positions for young players to transition to from high school. I expected to see more from them.

Tony Adams

Tony Adams Defense 2018

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
8 43 29 14 3.5 1 5 0 0 0

Tony Adams moved to safety due to some injuries and the departure of Bennett Williams. He looked to be a much more natural fit on the field in the safety role than he did at corner. He’ll need to work on his tackling to truly get a grasp on the position but it was a promising start at safety for Adams, who should be starting there as a junior.

Health is a concern. He has missed 11 games over two years due to injury.

Stanley Green

Stanley Green Defense 2018

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
10 58 32 26 1 0 2 1 0 1

Green didn’t get a targeting penalty this season! He still loves to hit people more than he likes to play sound defense, but hey, no targeting penalties!

In all honesty, Green had an average year. He had a TD against WIU on a blocked punt. His tackles were down and his only forced one fumble versus getting three in his first two seasons. He started to see some less playing time in favor on younger players.

Nate Hobbs

Nate Hobbs Defense 2018

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
9 22 13 9 3 0 2 0 0 1

Hobbs’ sophomore season wasn’t as impressive as his freshman season was in my eyes. He wasn’t bad by any means, but he struggled to make as big of an impact that saw him named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team in 2017. As with all Illini DBs, there were some busted coverages from Hobbs.

It was a bit of a sophomore slump for Hobbs this season, and the coaching staff will hope he will improve with another offseason for 2019.

Delano Ware

Delano Ware Defense 2018

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
11 35 21 14 2.5 1 3 0 0 1

Ware started as safety as a true freshman against Kent State, becoming second Illini true freshman safety to start the opening game. The man he replaced, Bennett Williams, was the first.

Ware was fine for a freshman. He made a few big plays and had some nice moments, but also had his freshman moments.

Kendall Smith

Kendall Smith Defense 2018

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
10 10 6 4 0 0 0 1 0 0

Smith was once a promising WR recruit, but he was moved to safety after failing to break though on the offense. He mostly played on special teams.

Nick Walker

Nick Walker Defense 2018

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
6 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

This was Walker’s first year with the team after transferring from junior college in Texas. He saw little action, but played in over 4 games, burning the possibility of a redshirt. He has two years left to play.

Jartavius ‘Quan’ Martin

Jartavius Martin Defense 2018

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
10 42 25 17 1.5 0 6 0 0 3

I’m a big fan of Jartavius Martin. He is one of those athletes who is so smooth. They don’t run; they glide. He showcased the best one-on-one coverage skills of any Illinois corner and he led the defensive backs with three interceptions. Even if most of them were thrown right at him, you still have to be in the right position to make the play.

He can be far too aggressive and fell victim to double-moves. He got beat deep far too often, but he is a true-freshman and the skill-set is there to become a very good corner. As he matures he’ll learn to not fall for double-moves and other tricks and give up far fewer big plays.

Dylan Wyatt

Dylan Wyatt Defense 2018

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
10 3 2 1 1 0 1 0 0 0

Wyatt played in 10 games as a true freshman, but didn’t play much in those games. He could have used a redshirt.

Ron Hardge III

Ron Hardge III Defense 2018

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
6 6 4 2 0 0 0 0 0 0

Another freshman who appeared in over four games, but didn’t play too much, making you questioning why his redshirt was burned. Illinois needs players on special teams and the depth was thin in the defensive backfield, but it’s hard to imagine what Hardge gained by playing in 6 games instead of 4, which would have maintained an extra year of eligibility.

Dawson DeGroot

Dawson DeGroot Defense 2018

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
10 16 9 7 1 0 0 0 0 0

He blocked a punt against WIU that was returned for a TD by Stanley Green. He saw some action on the defense but was mostly used in special teams.

Kerby Joseph

Kerby Joseph Defense 2018

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
10 9 8 1 0 0 1 0 0 0

Another freshman who may have been better off taking a redshirt. Seriously, what is with all these freshmen burning redshirts just to play sparingly?

He had three tackles against Kent State in the opener but never made more than a tackle in his remaining seven games.

Alec Andrea

Walk-on didn’t see the field this season.

Nolan Bernat

Nolan Bernat Defense 2018

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
9 8 5 3 0 0 1 0 0 1

Junior walk-on appeared in 9 games and picked up an interception against Western Illinois.

Christian Bobak

Christian Bobak Defense 2018

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
12 9 6 3 0 0 0 0 0 0

Sophomore walk-on played in all 12 games, mostly on special teams.

Sydney Brown

Sydney Brown Defense 2018

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
10 55 25 30 2 0 6 0 0 1

Brown came out of Canada and wasn’t recruited very heavily, but the Illini defense may have found a very nice player.

He started his freshman campaign at corner, but he moved to safety in the middle of the season. There is a lot to like about Brown. He can tackle, and is very aggressive. He has great hustle and is always going 100%, but that can be used against him.

Rather than reading the play and reacting, Brown would run the the spot he thought it would go and he was often wrong and out of position, allowing big plays in both the passing and running game.

Love the aggressiveness. He has a nose for a the ball and had a great game against Purdue with 12 tackles and an interception. He is the type of player who will appear all over the field, always around the ball, always hustling. But his aggressiveness needs to be more controlled moving forward.

Cameron Watkins

Cameron Watkins Defense 2018

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
10 38 29 9 1 0 3 0 0 0

Watkins wasn’t able to make as many big plays in his junior season as he did in 2017. He’s a bigger corner that tackles well, and his expereince is valuable to a young group.

Tailon Leitzsey

Joined the team in September as a walk-on.

PC Daniel II

Freshman walk-on didn’t appear in a game. Cool name.

Michael Marchese

Michael Marchese Defense 2018

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD FF FR INT
11 21 12 9 0 0 3 0 1 1

Every time I saw the younger Marchese playing safety, I asked myself why is Illinois trying to make a player who is clearly a linebacker play as the last man deep on the defense? He was beat deep often and looked uncomfortable in coverage.

He had 11 tackles in the final game against Northwestern. He’s still a walk-on, but, like his brother Jimmy, he may eventually get on scholarship. I just hope it’s as a special teams player and linebacker because it was not pretty when he was at safety.

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