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Illinois’ Early Signing Day Recap: Defense

Tough. Smart. Dependable. Bielema got what he preached.

Jared Badie, Linebacker, Oswego East (Source: Jared Badie Twitter)
Jared Badie, Linebacker, Oswego East (Source: Jared Badie Twitter)

Bielema basically sat the entire press core down in the Smith Center and did a film review on all the players that signed with us today.

You can watch it here, but I’ll break down what each player means for the Illini.

From the 30,000 foot view, Bielema’s goal was to get players from Illinois. He did just that. Ten of the 22 signees are from the state, and when looking at players in a 3-hour radius from Champaign, you can add in two more. That’s a lot of regional signees.

This success translates for the future more than you think.

Defensive Backs

Illinois signed TJ Griffin from Palos Hills, and also added Elijah McCantos from Miami, Florida. Griffin is easily the biggest standout from this class and is great in the deep half of the field and has good coverage skills. McCantos has only played one year of football, so you probably won't see him on the two-deep.

The Illini lost both Tony Adams and Kerby Joseph. Griffin has a chance to step up and play for a spot against 2021 redshirt-freshman Joriell Washington. If Joseph ends up deciding to return, Griffin would probably redshirt.

Linebackers

Adding to the linebackers room, Illinois signed Jared Badie from Oswego, Malachi Hood from Joliet, James Kreutz from Wilmette, Gabriel Jacas from Fort Pierce, Florida.

I think think the bottom line from these recruits, and something that Bielema kept mentioning, is they want to get to the ball. They love contact and want to attack the ball. This is very much in the philosophy of defensive coordinator Ryan Walters: attack the quarterback and cover the receivers.

We have great building blocks in Johnny Newton, Calvin Hart and Keith Randolph. There is a chance the new LBs get playing time, but only a couple of plays at a time. The difference in physicality between high school and Big Ten play is a lot, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see one or more players get redshirted after playing in four or fewer games.

However, Bielema did mention Badie has the same playing style as Isaiah Gay, and Jacas is similar to Owen Carney. Let's see how fall camp sets them away from the pack, so we've got a few months, but as for replacing departing players, this is a good job by the staff.

Bottom Line

Illinois has a lot to work with for defense. Yes, losing Joseph, Adams, Jake Hansen, Gay, and Carney hurts, but there are some great replacements coming in. They may not be Big Ten ready, but a season under Tank and they should be good to go.

I think the football IQ and fundamentals of the players are what Bielema and Walters were looking at. They got the tough, smart, dependable players they need.