Last year’s defense left a lot to be desired, but those watching closely enough saw that there was a lot of potential. Particularly in the secondary.
Forget about guys like Bennett Williams who had an absolutely outstanding freshman season (but don’t actually forget him; he’s really important too). I want to focus on two other secondary members who will play very important roles for Hardy Nickerson’s defense in 2018: Nate Hobbs and Tony Adams.
Just like Williams, Nate Hobbs was a “diamond in the rough” that Lovie and his staff was able to identify. They offered and were actually able to pull him away from a school he had already committed to (that being Western Kentucky, who the Illini took down 20-7 last year).
Hobbs is pretty big for a corner, standing at 6-foot and weighing in at 200 pounds. He was a fairly low-ranked recruit coming out of Louisville Male High School in Kentucky. I still remember listening to The Jeremy Werner Show when they were talking about how Lovie flipped him from Western Kentucky, and I didn’t think much of it. He was ranked as a two-star recruit, and going to a mid-major school. Who cares? Next subject.
Well, Hobbs has totally proved me wrong. He played quite a bit last year, and had a season-high eight tackles against Nebraska and five solo tackles versus Iowa. He also had a pass breakup against Ohio State and a sack in Iowa City. He’s athletic, long and versatile. He also saw a lot of time returning punts on special teams.
My guess is he’ll pick off balls like this in 2018:
Pick by Stanley Green.— Illini Football (@IlliniFootball) October 21, 2017
Assisted by Nate Hobbs.pic.twitter.com/P7PPgLNaFP
Depending on how the roster shakes out, too, he might see more time returning punts. It’s pretty likely the coaching staff will save Dudek for the offensive side of the ball, considering his injury history.
Keep an eye out for Hobbs — with a year of experience under his belt, he could make a big jump this year.
Tons of one-on-one work between receivers and corners this morning. Here’s a shock: best corner Nate Hobbs; best receiver Ricky Smalling.— Robert (@ALionEye) August 9, 2018
Also impressive: WR Carlos Sandy.
Adams is certainly the lesser-known of the two corners. If you remember, like Hobbs, he had a good start to the season. He recorded four tackles against Ball State, and had a sack and an interception vs. USF.
His season, however, was cut short by a shoulder injury against Iowa on Oct. 7. That injury required season-ending surgery, but by all accounts Adams should be ready to go for the start of the 2018 season. Adams was more highly ranked coming out of high school (St. Louis University High School). 247 Sports had him as a three-star (.8472 rating) recruit coming out of high school.
It is likely Adams will need a bit of time to get back into the groove of Big Ten play. He missed over half the season last year, but just like Hobbs he has some solid measurables. According to the roster, Adams is 6-foot and 190 pounds.
It’s hard to say exactly what type of season he will have, but if the right things happen, having a secondary that consists of Adams, Hobbs, Williams and Stanley Green has the looks of what could be a top-tier unit in the conference. That’s not even counting any of the freshmen.
Considering the question marks in the linebacking corps, it will be important these guys give plenty of support in Hansen, Harding and the rest of the linebacking corps.
Jartavius Martin with a heck of an interception of Cam Thomas. #illini secondary is deep with young talent.— Jeremy Werner (@JWerner247) August 9, 2018
For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby.