The 2019 Illinois Fighting Illini offensive line matured before our eyes over the course of the season, and it sprung then-senior running backs Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown for some memorable runs. Much of the 2019 line returns in 2020, but the graduation of Richie Petitbon and the season-ending injury to Blake Jeresaty creates a roster hole at the guard position. Fortunately, the Illini have talented depth to rely on.
Let’s work our way out from the core of the line.
Doug Kramer is easily one of the best centers in the conference, and was named to the Wuerffel Trophy watch list ahead of his senior season. He also received nods from Athlon and Phil Steele for pre-season All-Big Ten Fourth and Third Teams respectively. Kramer’s absence due to injury was notable in the RedBox Bowl, but he has otherwise been quite durable, having started all 24 games in the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
It’s difficult to say for sure what would happen if Kramer were unable to play at any point this season, as he could be replaced by either another guard like Kendrick Green or Verdis Brown, or one of the newer players like Josh Plohr or Kevin Tyler could be forced into action.
Like Kramer, Kendrick Green has NFL potential as an interior lineman. Green was named to the Outland Trophy watch list, while he was also listed as Third Team and Fourth Team All-Big Ten by both Athlon and Phil Steele, respectively. Green has accumulated 25 straight starts, having played in every game during both the 2018 and 2019 seasons. He received All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors from the media in 2019.
The guard spot on the other side is something of a question mark, as it was likely to be filled by Blake Jeresaty before his season ended due to injury. It will be a battle in camp to fill the starting position, which will likely be between sophomores Verdis Brown and Jordyn Slaughter. Brown comes in with the most fanfare, having been a highly-rated recruit who chose the Illini over the Florida State Seminoles. Brown also played in every game last year, while Slaughter only made one appearance against the Akron Zips.
The younger players who could potentially play at the guard position include Josh Plohr, Kevin Tyler, and Evan Kirts. These players will likely either redshirt or play mostly on special teams.
Alex Palczewski and Vederian Lowe are also two of the best in the conference at their position. Palczewski was named to the Outland Trophy watch list alongside Kendrick Green, and was listed on both the Athlon and Phil Steele All-Big Ten Preseason Third Teams. He also rides into the 2020 season with 36 straight starts.
Rockford-native Vederian Lowe has also been a solid bookend to the Illini offensive line for some time, as he comes into the 2020 season with 26 straight starts.
Behind the two expected starters are a stable of younger players including junior Alex Pihlstrom, sophomore Julian Pearl, and freshmen Brevyn Jones, Blaise Sparks, and Phifer Griffin. Jones comes to Illinois as a transfer with immediate eligibility from the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
With this much experience, talent, and size spread amongst all of the offensive line positions, the Illini are poised to take yet another leap in terms of offensive production during the 2020 season.