Linebacker has been one of the most puzzling position groups during the Lovie Smith era. We’ve seen capable linebackers like Jake Hansen and Del’Shawn Phillips play well in the system, but the coaching staff has simply been unable to secure an elite level linebacker to take the scheme to the next level. It’s been said to the point of being cliched, but this team needs someone to play role that Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs played during Lovie’s tenure with the Chicago Bears. Fortunately, Lovie and his staff may have found their man.
This one has been a bit of a wild recruitment, with Cooper choosing Illinois over Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Florida State, and a host of other blue bloods on Jan. 3. The Seminoles were especially adamant in their pursuit of Cooper after his commitment, but ultimately, Cooper stuck with the Illini and Cory Patterson, his former coach at Trinity Catholic in St. Louis.
Cooper looks to be the prototypical middle linebacker that this defense sorely needs. His ability to read plays and react to the ball is outstanding, and the speed he displays breaking through opposing offensive lines is a sight to behold. Here’s a linebacker who can do it all, and it’s been a long time coming.
Illinois’ linebacker corps is in sore need of depth, and that’s exactly what Barnes will provide. Tarique Barnes shows speed and athleticism, both of which are always in demand especially at the outside linebacker position. He boasts offers from several SEC schools, including Arkansas, Missouri, and Mississippi State, though the most recent offer (Arkansas) was made in spring of 2018. His lack of recent offers may give some pause, but Barnes is an important high-upside pickup who should pay dividends down the road.
Illinois needed to make a difference at the linebacker position in this class. Shammond Cooper and Tarique Barnes are both fine additions, and I imagine both will see playing time in the near future.
For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby, and look for the TCR Collection while you’re at it!