In the heat of March, we’re taking a look at spring football for the Fighting Illini. Even though Coach Bret Bielema has gotten the roster close to the 85 scholarship limit, there will likely be some further transfer movement — especially after spring depth charts are established across college football — which will result in a second wave of transfer portal entries.
All eyes will be on Tommy DeVito and how he leads new offensive coordinator Barry Lunney’s offense. DeVito possesses all the physical tools to be effective, but how quickly he picks up the mental aspects will be vital.
Art Sitkowski is recovering from arm surgery and is expected to challenge DeVito for the starting position, but it’s likely DeVito’s spot to lose. The backups haven’t shown much to date and probably won’t push for meaningful snaps.
Don’t be surprised to see Bielema bring in another QB from the transfer portal — and potentially a quarterback transfer out — after spring practice concludes.
Returning: Samari Collier, Ryan Johnson, Matt Robinson, Art Sitkowski
Additions: Matt Leary (Summer)
Departures: Brandon Peters
Illinois possesses two stud running backs in Chase Brown and Josh McCray who could play for any team in the Big Ten. Behind them, Reggie Love possesses plenty of talent himself.
Newcomers Jordan Anderson and Aidan Laughery will attempt to carve out roles as early enrollees. Anderson is built in the same mold as Josh McCray, while Laughery is a speedster who will likely step right in as a kick returner. Chase Hayden will provide some depth.
Returning: Matthew Bobak, Chase Brown, Nick Fadanzo, Chase Hayden, Josh McCray,
Additions: Jordan Anderson, Aidan Laughery
Departures: Mike Epstein, Jakari Norwood
This is one of weakest position groups of 2021. Due to the lack of production, there was an overhaul with this position in the offseason and for good reason. It will be a young group this spring, but with an increased talent level.
Isaiah Williams — who is just scratching the surface of how good he can be — returns and will stake claim to a starting spot. Veterans Casey Washington, Brian Hightower, Khamari Thompson and Pat Bryant will have a chance to start, but will be pushed by a talented, albeit young, incoming class.
Shawn Miller is the most likely to see playing time as he flashes similar traits to Isaiah Williams and is the most polished of the freshmen. Eian Pugh is rangy and athletic, similar to Bryant.
Returning: Keion Battle, Pat Bryant, Owen Hickey, Brian Hightower, Ty Lindenman, Miles Scott, Khmari Thompson, Peyton Vining, Casey Washington, Isaiah Williams,
Additions: Hank Beatty (Summer), Ashton Hollins (Summer), Shawn Miller, Eian Pugh
Departures: Jafar Armstrong, Marquez Beason, Dalevon Campbell, Desmond Dan, Donny Navarro, Carlos Sandy, Deuce Spann
With Daniel Barker transferring out, Luke Ford will step into the limelight. He produced when given the opportunity in 2021 and will likely become a more consistent target in 2022. Underrated freshman Owen Anderson enrolled early and will compete for minutes.
Michael Marchese and Tip Reiman are former walk-ons who gained scholarships. Max Rosenthal is best known for his blocking. Griffin Moore is another scholarship player that should provide depth.
Returning: Lucas Althaus, Mike Cerniglia, Preston Engel, Luke Ford, Michael Marchese, Griffin Moore, Tip Reiman, Max Rosenthal
Additions: Owen Anderson, Henry Boyer (Summer), Naivyan Cargill (Fall)
Departures: Daniel Barker
The offensive line will look very different in 2022, and that’s not a bad thing. At one point in the 2021 season, Bielema openly stated he needed more depth and wasn’t getting the performance he desired from the OL as a unit. Bielema’s predecessor missed far too often at identifying — and developing — talent at this position, but did leave behind a few strong players and a solid group of freshmen in the 2021 recruiting class. Bielema has since followed that up with a robust 2022 class.
Julian Pearl is expected to lock down a spot at tackle. Alex Palczewski returns for a sixth year and could play guard or tackle. Jordyn Slaughter and Alex Philstrom bring experience and hope to nail down a position on the interior. Josh Kreutz will have the inside track on the center role. JUCO offensive tackles Isaiah Adams and Zy Crisler enrolled early to compete for starting tackle positions. Adams is the most ready to play of the two, but Crisler could end up being a big time player once he tunes his body.
Zach Barlev, Josh Gesky, and Brody Wisecarver are talented linemen from the 2021 class who have had a year to develop in the strength and conditioning program and should push for playing time. Evan Kirts and Josh Plohr round out the OL scholarship depth. The rest of the 2022 OL class will arrive in the summer.
Returning: Zach Barlev, Tommy Cronin, Josh Gesky, Devin Hale, Evan Kirts, Josh Kreutz, Alex Palczewski, Julian Pearl, Alex Philstrom, Josh Plohr, Jordyn Slaughter, Brody Wisecarver, Terry Zapf
Additions: Isaiah Adams, Zy Crisler, Matt Fries (Summer), Clayton Leonard (Summer), Magnus Moller (Summer), Joey Okla (Summer), Hunter Whitenack (Summer)
Departures: Jack Badovinac, Blake Jeresaty, Doug Kramer, Vederian Lowe