On Wednesday, Bret Bielema basically sat the entire press corps down in the Smith Center and did a film review on all the players that signed with Illinois.
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.
The biggest needs were on offense, and we got some big guys.
The Illini signed Isaiah Adams from Garden City C.C. (if you watched Last Chance U, that JUCO sounds familiar); Matt Fries from Cranford, New Jersey; Clayton Leonard from Gilman; Magnus Moller from Denmark; Joey, Okla from Hartland, Wisconsin; and Hunter Whitenack from New Carlisle, Indiana.
After watching the game tape, we have something to be excited about next season. Bielema kept harping about transitional power for all his offensive line recruits. Now, I didn’t play O-line growing up, but the way I understand it is as the D-line progresses on the QB, the lineman maintains his leverage and keeps the player from getting to the QB. The lineman can shift his weight and maintain balance until the whistle is blown. Or, you know, pancake a lesser defender. Illinois got some dudes that do just that.
Yes, there may be some things we may need to work, but Bielema and Bart Miller have ready-built 300-pound dudes. There is a chance that one or more of these players break the two-deep in an O-line that will be a work in progress for 2022.
The next largest group of recruits are the receivers. The Illini picked up five speedy, down-the-field ball-catchers. The Illini signed Hank Beatty from Rochester; Ashton Hollins from Lucedale, Mississippi; Shawn Miller from IMG Academy; Eian Pugh from Oak Park; and Tyson Rook from Brunswick, Georgia.
Let’s be honest here: As much as we love Isaiah Williams and Duece Spann, we need actual receivers on our roster. We need the downfield threats to let the running game do its job. Williams and Spann were learning on the fly and Casey Washington was great when needed. But the Illini lacked that burst of speed on the outside from go, post and sluggo routes.
Bielema got those guys now who can get up to the ball, make catches in traffic, and have track and field speed. Should be great targets for Art Sitkowski, Syracuse transfer Tommy DeVito, or this next guy.
Donovan Leary from Sicklerville, New Jersey, is our sole QB recruit. If all goes well he should be the developmental guy and understudy behind Sitkowski or DeVito. Great presence in the pocket and solid arm.
Aidan Laughery from Gibson City and Jordan Anderson from Joliet are both solid backs. Both should have limited plying time behind Chase Brown and Josh McCray.
Laughery might get used as a KR/PR. Anderson is a big dude and much like McCray starts 10 yards back, breaks arm tackles, has good patience, and loves contact.
Solid adds, but both are great to play off each other as change-of-pace backs and should see success at Illinois, just not in 2022.
Owen Anderson from Princeton, NewJersey and Henry Boyer from Oak Lawn both are big-backs and their game tape reminds me a lot of Luke Ford and Daniel Barker. They are great on the line in jumbo sets, can break out and catch the open ball (especially Anderson). They both played in similar systems as Illinois, so this season will be getting up to the speed of the game than learning the motions.
This has been an exciting wrap-up to the early signing period. Almost every position group has a player from the state of Illinois, which says a lot to high school coaches for the next few classes. Illinois got what it needed to fill the gaps on offense and defense. Statistically speaking, this is Illinois’ best class since 2011, Ron Zook’s last year.
Bielema is starting off on the right foot, it only gets better from here.