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Illini in Super Bowl LIII: Ted Karras

The New England Patriots are unlikeable, but root for Teddy.

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NFL: AFC Championship-Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Beckman. Ron Zook. Bill Belichick: The Link? Ted Karras

What do coaches Tim Beckman and Bill Belichick have in common? They both coached a large individual and standout offensive lineman by the name of Theodore George Karras III, aka Ted Karras.

The New England Patriots do not have many supporters this coming weekend outside of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Missouri and Louisiana. Ambivalent football fans will be pulling for the LA Rams. Ambivalent Illini NFL fans should have a soft spot for Ted Karras — and they should watch closely to see if he gets any game action on the greatest stage in all of professional sports.

Born to Ball

2015 Big Ten Media Days Illini representatives: Ted Karras (center) alongside running back Josh Ferguson and linebacker Mason Monheim
Illinois Athletics

Ted Karras has deep football roots both at the collegiate and professional levels. According to his bio on the official Illini Athletics page, his grandfather, father and two great-uncles played Division I college ball.

His father played defensive tackle at Northwestern and for the Washington Redskins. His grandfather, Ted Karras, starred with the Indiana Hoosiers in the 1950s before playing in the NFL for the Chicago Bears, winning the 1963 World Championship under one of Illinois’ most famous alums, Papa Bear George Halas.

His great-uncle Alex played defensive tackle for the Iowa Hawkeyes, winning the Outland Trophy in 1957. Alex was also an actor, playing roles in the 1974 film Blazing Saddles and in ABC’s sitcom Webster in the 1980’s.

Perhaps a reason why Ted Karras is so comfortable and well-spoken in interviews and media obligations is because he inherited and learned some of those skills from his great-uncle Alex and a family full of NFL talent.

A right fit for Right Guard at Illinois

Ted Karras at Camp Rantoul. Credit: Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune:

At Illinois, Ted Karras started a total of 43 career games, mostly at right guard from 2012-15. A native of neighboring Indiana, Karras held Power 5 offers from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa State and UCLA. He committed to play for Illinois in the summer of 2010, back when Joe Gilbert was the offensive line coach.

At Illinois he thrived on the field and in the classroom, earning Academic All-Big Ten Honors in three of his four undergraduate years on campus. Ted’s senior year in 2015 was the year it all came together, despite some less-than-ideal circumstances. Karras was named team captain, named All-Big Ten Third Team by the media and started all 12 games at right guard.

Aside from a minor knee injury he suffered in 2014 during his junior season that held him out of the final stretch of that season, Karras was a model of consistency and longevity that is seldom seen in the violent game of football.

Flexibility and Versatility are the names of the NFL game

According to Pro Football Focus, the New England Patriots had the fourth best offensive line unit in the 2018 NFL regular season. The only teams with better offensive lines than Patriots were the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts.

The Patriots’ team depth chart lists Ted Karras the backup center (to starter David Andrews) and the backup right guard (to starter Shaq Mason). Andrews has started every game for the Patriots this 2018 regular season and current postseason. Shaq Mason, regarded as one of if not the best guards in the NFL, was banged up and did not play in Week 6 and Week 7.

Karras started two games at right guard in 2018 for the New England Patriots in Weeks 6 and 7 in place of Shaq Mason against the Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans, respectively. The Patriots beat the Packers but would lose to the Titans on the road the following week. Even when he’s not listed as an official starter, Karras has appeared in every Patriots game this season and last season as a blocker on special teams for field goals and PATs.

Unlike college football rosters that feature 90+ players on a team, NFL rosters are limited to 53 players, plus some reserves on the practice squad. Non-starters enhance their value and ability to make an NFL roster by showing versatility in playing multiple positions. Ted Karras is best at right guard (his resume at Illinois proves that), but he’s also flexible enough to play center or left guard should injuries force him onto the field.

A Look at the last Six Illini Super Bowl Champions

2017 (LI): Ted Karras, OG, New England Patriots

2015 (XLIX): Tavon Wilson, DB, New England Patriots

2015 (XLIX): Michael Hoomanawanui, TE, New England Patriots

2015 (XLIX): Michael Buchanon, DL, New England Patriots

2012 (XLVI): Steve Weatherford, P, New York Giants

2012 (XLVI): Dave Diehl, OT, New York Giants

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