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2018 Illinois Football Roster Preview: OL

Larry Boyd’s pending suspension looms over this group.

Illinois v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Offensive line is one of the toughest positions for players transitioning from high school and college. The amount of technique and skill difference is astronomical. Most offensive linemen don’t receive much technique coaching in high school, and even if they do, they rarely have to use it in games to be successful. They can simply depend on their size and strength to overpower most of their opponents who are not nearly as fast or strong as ones they will see in college.

In almost every case, offensive linemen are just not ready to play as true freshman. In almost every case they will take a redshirt and take a year to work on their bodies and most importantly, technique.

Illinois had three true freshman and one redshirt freshman start on the offensive line last season. This predictably led to shaky play, and a line that was overmatched against most Big Ten opponents.

Now these players are a year older. Throwing them into the fire could hopefully jumpstart their development. However, these players are under the age that most offensive lineman are when they first start games in the Big Ten. This is still a younger group led by one single upperclassman starter.

Illinois needs more stability out of this group moving forward. An up-tempo offense with many quick passes and options runs can help mask the inexperience, but at the end of the day, if you don’t have a good offensive line, it’s almost impossible to have a good offense. Illinois needs a much better season out of this group.

Adam Solomon - #52, JR, 6’ 6”, 305 lbs

Solomon started in the first game against Ball State in 2017, but didn’t start a game for the rest of the season. He played some on special teams and will possibly be a part of the blocking wedge on punts.

Nick Allegretti - #53, SR, 6’ 4”, 320 lbs

Nick Allegretti is a great Illini. He’ll be one of the guys I look back upon and will always think he never got what he deserved.

He took a redshirt in 2014, but at least was able to be a part of a team that made a bowl game. Since then, he experienced the Tim Beckman firing in his freshman year. The hiring, and firing of Bill Cubit in the following off-season. And he’s experienced losses. A lot of them.

But through it all Allegretti has developed into a very good player who will have a great shot at being an NFL Draft pick. He’s been an Academic All-Big Ten member for three straight seasons, and has been a good leader for a young team. He has been praised for his involvement with the community. His family topped it all off with a $250,000 donation to the football performance center.

This man bleeds orange and blue, and every Illini fan should be proud of him.

He’ll be the sure starting right guard and serve as the elder statesman of the offensive line.

Kendrick Green - #55, R-FR, 6’ 4”, 300 lbs

Green started his Illinois career on the other side of the ball as a defensive tackle. He was moved back to offensive line — a posistion he played in high school, along with defensive line — this offseason. Coaches have had nothing but good things to say about him so far. He has a lot of potential as an interior lineman.

However, since this was his first offseason practicing at OL, he is essentially a true freshman, and like we saw last year, true freshmen linemen often struggle.

Because of a lack of depth — and Larry Boyd’s suspension — it appears Green will be starting at weak-side guard. Having a starting freshman offensive lineman who switched from defense in the off-season doesn’t inspire too much confidence. We’ll see how fast he can adjust.

Preston Engel - #58, FR, 6’ 0”, 270 lbs

Walk-on from Normal, Illinois.

Alex Palczewski - #63, SO, 6’ 6”, 300 lbs

I was very surprised that Palczewski played his freshman season. He was underweight for a Big Ten lineman, and he seem to be a perfect redshirt and bulk up candidate.

Palczewski not only played, but he started the final 11 games at LG, and he was the best of the three true freshmen who started on the line. With Boyd’s suspension, Palczewski will be moved to tackle, and he’s been playing on the right side in training camp — the blind-side for likely left-handed starting QB AJ Bush. He played tackle in high school and his length makes him a natural fit.

Doug Kramer - #65, SO, 6’ 2”, 305 lbs

Kramer started eight games at center. Slot him right back in at center this year.

Jordyn Slaughter - #66, FR, 6’ 5”, 315 lbs

Slaughter is a 2018 recruit from Belleville, Illinois. Unlike last season, I don’t think Illinois will be forced to play true freshman, and even if Slaughter and other freshman are forced to play due to injury, they can maintain redshirt status if they don’t play in more than four games.

Slaughter is a fantastic name for a player on the OL, and that alone leaves me excited for his development. Redshirt him. Develop his body and technique for the future.

Jake Stover - #68, R-FR, 6’ 3”, 300 lbs

Walk-on from Chicago. Took a redshirt last season.

Reuben Unije - #70, FR, 6’ 6”, 290 lbs

Unije comes to Illinois from the prestigious IMG Academy out of Florida. He had a quite impressive offer list including schools such as Alabama, Oklahoma, Arizona State, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Oregon and Tennessee.

Zeke Martin - #71, JR, 6’ 5”, 300 lbs

Like Adam Solomon, Martin started the first game against Ball State, but didn’t start any game for the rest of the season.

Kievan Myers - #72, FR, 6’ 5”, 330 lbs

Oh man, gotta love that size from this freshman out of Dallas. I do wonder how much of that 330 pounds is “good” weight, but the fact that he is already at 330 bodes well for his future ability to put on weight and increase his strength.

Myers also held offers from Missouri, Colorado, Texas Tech and West Virginia.

Jake Cerny - #73, SO, 6’ 5”, 305 lbs

Cerny only saw action in two games in 2017. He is a former top-60 OL recruit.

Andrew Trainer - #74, SO, 6’ 7”, 305 lbs

Trainer started as a TE and moved to tackle in 2017.

Kurt Gavin - #75, SO, 6’ 4”, 305 lbs

Saw the field in one game in his redshirt freshman season.

Larry Boyd - #76, SO, 6’ 6”, 310 lbs

Larry Boyd played well for a true freshman LT. He struggled with quicker rushers at times, but his strength and potential were clear.

Unfortunately, Jeremy Werner of 247 Sports reported that Larry Boyd is facing a suspension. No word currently on exactly how long of a suspension, but given that Boyd is practicing with the third and second teams in training camp, it may possibly be for the entire season.

There were some reports/speculation that Boyd was looking to transfer from Illinois, but those proved to be false.

This would count as a redshirt year and Boyd will still have three years to play starting in 2019.

We’ll have to wait and see what the official word is from Lovie Smith, but for now the assumption will be that Boyd will not see the field this season.

Vederian Lowe - #79, SO, 6’ 6”, 315 lbs

Lowe is moving to play LT this season after starting seven games at RT in 2017. He had a difficult time in pass protection, but had some promising moments. He’ll only improve with more reps and playing time.

Projected Depth Chart

The starters are clear, but how it lines up behind them is a huge question mark for now. Backups are mainly speculation.

LT

  1. Vederian Lowe
  2. Jake Cerny
  3. Reuben Unije

LG

  1. Kendrick Green
  2. Adam Solomon
  3. Kievan Myers

C

  1. Doug Kramer
  2. Nick Allegretti (If Kramer goes down, Allegretti will play C)
  3. Kurt Gavin

RG

  1. Nick Allegretti
  2. Zeke Martin
  3. Larry Boyd (Listed this low due to looming long term suspension.)

RT

  1. Alex Palczewski
  2. Andrew Trainer
  3. Jordyn Slaughter