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The Law Firm is back in Champaign for one more year

All rise for Newton and Randolph.

Illinois v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

The Illinois defense got some good news on Monday — the last day possible to declare for the NFL Draft.

Keith Randolph announced he is staying for his final year.

And an hour later, Randolph’s partner, Jer’Zhan “Johnny” Newton, announced his decision to stay for another year.

Newton and Randolph, affectionately known by Illini fans as “The Law Firm,” is practicing once again in Champaign.

The two led the stout interior defensive line and plugged all running lanes, allowing outside linebackers Seth Coleman and Gabe Jacas to help in the passing game. When you can put that much pressure on the offensive line and quarterback, the game plan turns to mush, and that first read is much, much, much harder to make.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 08 Iowa at Illinois Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Let the stats speak for themselves:

  • In 2022, Newton and Randolph had 13 tackles for loss each, accounting for 32% of all of Illinois’ TFLs.
  • The Law Firm will lead all returning players with tackles.
  • Newton and Randolph accounted for 35% of all sacks. Including Coleman and Jacas, the returning line accounted for 66% of all sacks.

Illinois’ scheme creates havoc in the trenches and relies on defensive backs to play cleanup. That is the Bielema way: make it hard for the quarterback to make his reads, plug the holes, and if a play breaks loose, collapse on the ball.

Of course, the Illini defense will be a bit different next season. Aaron Henry will be in his first season as defensive coordinator. The linebackers and secondary will need to replace a lot of talent like Quan Martin, Sydney Brown and Devon Witherspoon.

But the Law Firm anchoring the line allows the entire defense to breathe a little.

The defensive backs can focus on playing the man or zone. The linebackers can keep their eyes on the running backs. Aaron Henry can focus on keeping the system running. This breathing room will smooth out the transition process and will keep the country’s No. 1 defense playing at a high standard.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Why It Matters

While it may not be the recipe for success nationally, in order to win the Big Ten West, the formula has forever been stout trench play. Illinois is now returning most of the talent on both the offensive and defensive lines. Going into 2023, the Illini will have the two-deep roster on the line that is needed to sustain success at a high level.

Bielema called this out in 2021. Year after year, the Illini lacked consistent high-level play on the offensive and defensive lines. Illinois now has something it has lacked for the last decade; almost every guy playing on the line has NFL prospects. The guys behind them have room to learn from veteran players, develop into NFL prospects, and sustain success at Illinois for future seasons.

The expectation has shifted, and Illinois is slowly emerging out of the basement.

Court is in session.

Michigan State v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Law Firm is back.

228 days until Toledo.