An Illini alum was back in primetime action this week for the first time since October. Another was cut only to be picked up by another team. How did the rest of the Illini alums in the NFL perform?
Jihad Ward, defensive end: The Ravens are getting healthier after their COVID outbreak. Against the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday Night Football last week, Ward appeared in about half of his team’s defensive snaps. It was his first playing time since Week 6. He had one sack and a total of four QB hits. Against the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football most recently, Ward had one tackle and a batted down pass.
Del’Shawn Phillips, linebacker: Unfortunately for Phillips, he was put on the Injured Reserve list for the second time this season. Per league rules, that means his season is officially over — he is ineligible to return to the active roster since he’s been placed on IR twice. We wish Phillips the best in his recovery and hope he has plenty of opportunities down the road.
Malik Turner, wide receiver/special teams: Turner was inactive for Sunday’s game versus Cincinnati. He has not played since Week 4.
The Texans lost a heartbreaker to the Indianapolis Colts last week. This week, the two Illini alums on the Texans were back in the state in which they played their college football. The Chicago Bears blew out the Texans 36-7.
Corey Liuget, defensive tackle/special teams: Liuget was on the active roster. He did not record any defensive stats on Sunday and was primarily used on special teams.
Whitney Mercilus, outside linebacker: Mercilus started the game against the Bears. He had one QB hit and played in 62 percent of Houston’s defensive snaps.
Tavon Wilson, safety/special teams: In one of the better games between two interesting, well-coached teams, Wilson and the Colts made their first trip to Nevada to play the Las Vegas Raiders. Wilson had three total tackles in Indy’s 44-27 road victory.
Jacksonville entered the game against the Tennessee Titans on an 11-game losing streak. The Jags continue their losing ways, dropping the game 31-10.
Chase McLaughlin, kicker: Unfortunately, McLaughlin was cut from the Jags roster on Saturday before game day. It took only a few days before he was ultimately signed by the New York Jets.
Jets claimed K Chase McLaughlin off waivers from the Jaguars and DL Trevon Coley off waivers from the Cardinals.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 14, 2020
Dawuane Smoot, defensive end: Smoot is getting better by the game. He is emerging as the best Illini player currently in the NFL. Smoot had two tackles and this forced fumble in his third consecutive start:
The vet punches it out and the rookie gets the recovery.@Bigsmoot_94 x @DougCostin_— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) December 13, 2020
: CBS | https://t.co/ipBIjeiLwZ pic.twitter.com/3VpA2qWckD
Kansas City Chiefs:
Nick Allegretti, guard: Allegretti and the Chiefs offense had a nice matchup against the extremely solid Miami Dolphins. Allegretti started his seventh consecutive game, and Kansas City held on to win 33-27.
The Miami Dolphins had their toughest game of the year when Patrick Mahomes (and Nick Allegretti) came to town. The Dolphins are legit, despite the close loss.
Ted Karras, center: Karras is a leader not just for Miami’s offensive line unit, but for the entire Dolphins organization. He’s played every Miami offensive snap this season.
Clayton Fejedelem, safety/special teams: This was not going to be an easy special teams test for Fej against the always impressive Chiefs. Fej did not appear on the defensive stat sheet and did his usual dirty work on special teams.
Hardy Nickerson, linebacker/special teams: Unfortunately for Nickerson, the Vikings made the decision to cut the former Illini and California Golden Bears linebacker.
New England Patriots:
Akeem Spence, defensive tackle: A new addition to this list, the former Illini big man was recently added to New England’s practice squad and was quickly elevated to the 53-man roster ahead of New England’s Week 12 game against the Arizona Cardinals. Facing their second LA team in less than a week, Spence had a rough outing at the LA Rams. He had one tackle, but was responsible for a critical error that ultimately put the game out of reach for his team. On a Rams 4th-and-1, Spence jumped offsides, gave the opponent a new set of downs — and the Rams offense scored on the very next play to put LA up 24-3.
The #Patriots signed Akeem Spence off the street less than a month ago. The fact that he's on the field on a fourth-and-1 in a do-or-die game says a lot about this season.— Andrew Callahan (@_AndrewCallahan) December 11, 2020
New Orleans Saints:
Justin Hardee, cornerback/special teams: Dealing with a groin injury, Justin Hardee is on New Orleans’ IR list. He has not played since Nov. 1 against the Chicago Bears in Week 8.
New York Jets:
Chase McLaughlin, Kicker: McLaughlin was signed by the New York Jets on Monday afternoon. He’ll be the Jets’ kicker in their next game when they head to Los Angeles to play the LA Rams. McLaughlin replaces Sergio Castillo, who missed three field goals last Sunday en route to a Jets 40-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
*Just a reminder, Detroit Lions wide receiver Geronimo Allison and New England Patriots tight end Matt LaCosse opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19.