The youth movement of 2017 and 2018 is starting to come of age as the 2019 Illini look to have the deepest defensive line in Lovie’s tenure. Accordingly, sophomore defensive tackle Calvin Avery is expected be one of the centerpieces, literally and figuratively, on the defensive line.
Widely considered to be the jewel of the Illini’s 2018 recruiting class, Avery hails from Dallas, Texas (Bishop Dunne H.S) and was a four-star in the 247 composite rankings. Coming out of high school, he was one of the Top-20 defensive tackles in the country. In the high school tape below, you can see the explosiveness that makes Illini fans giddy about Avery’s future.
As a true freshman in 2018, we saw some of what Avery can do as he registered 18 tackles (1.5 for loss) and a blocked extra point. However, going into 2019, Avery is expected to take on a bigger role and the loss of defensive end Bobby Roundtree makes it crucial that Avery take a leap.
He needs to be on the field as much as possible
In order to take the leap, the Illini have to hope that Avery’s conditioning is up to par. Avery showed up on campus in 2018 weighing about 330 pounds. He was a raw, yet promising prospect, that needed to shed some weight.
Coming out of this spring, it was reported that Avery had toned up that 330-pound frame and that his conditioning had vastly improved. This is important because if the Illini defensive line is going to take the next step while simultaneously making up for the loss of Roundtree on the edge at defensive end, Avery needs to be on the field as much as possible to clog and control the middle of the defense.
Lovie’s plans for Avery
In terms of where he fits into Lovie’s Cover 2 scheme, Avery will be expected to clog the middle, specifically the 0-3 gaps. His role in clogging will be equally important on run downs and passing downs. On run downs, he will be expected to set and hold the middle of the defense to help linebackers coming down hill to stop the run. On passing downs, he will again occupy the middle (and hopefully a few offensive lineman) to set up pass rushers off the edge or blitzers up the middle. However, in order to truly be effective on passing downs, Avery needs to show the ability to penetrate on a consistent basis.
If Avery shows some of the potential his high school tape showed and is in opponents’ backfields consistently, then all of a sudden, the Illini’s defensive ends, linebackers, and defensive backs will be freed for more dynamic roles in Lovie’s scheme.
Avery’s development is crucial for Lovie’s future
To take this a step further, if Lovie is still coaching the Illini in 2020 and the hot seat has cooled, it will be largely because he turned the defense around. If this turn around takes place, it will be in large part due to Avery’s emergence on the Illini’s defensive line.