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‘He’s in the gameplan’: Illinois is getting healthier

The Illini defense will be getting a couple reinforcements this weekend.

David Emuze // TCR

A couple of pieces are set to return to the Illini defense.

Head coach Bret Bielema said Thursday that sophomore safety Matthew Bailey is expected to make his season debut in Saturday’s game against Penn State.

“He’s in the gameplan, full go,” Bielema said.

“It’ll be nice to get him back in rotation not just from a pure skill standpoint but he just kind of embodies everything in the back end,” Bielema said Monday.

Bailey appeared in all 13 games as a freshman in 2022, recording 10 tackles and three interceptions in a standout season and was one of the primary guys to be counted upon to help fill the void of the Illini’s three NFL draft picks in the secondary.

After suffering a foot injury in the winter, he missed all of spring and fall camp before finally being cleared to practice last week.

“He’s kind of got a calm personality to him,” Bielema said. “When things get big he has the tendency to calm it down...just a good emphasis to us coaches having him in the game.”

Senior outside linebacker Ezekiel Holmes will also return to the field against the Nittany Lions after being cleared to practice earlier this week.

Holmes started the Illini’s Week 1 game against Wyoming in 2022 before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the season.

As far as the rest of the roster goes, Bielema said he expects a clean bill of health.

“Amazingly, we’re pretty healthy coming out of two games; had a couple guys get some injuries on [Friday] but nothing that’s going to eliminate anybody out.”