Things did not go so well in 2013 for the Illinois Fighting Illini as they finished 2-10 on the season and a woeful 0-8 in Big Ten play. Head coach Tim Beckman faces a major rebuilding job all over the football field, especially in the secondary. Illinois will be without seven of its top nine defenders in the secondary from 2012 next season, leaving a major need for the Illini to try and fill in spring practice.
In all, Illinois will lose six defenders to graduation and one to a position change, effectively gutting the depth of the secondary. Terry Hawthorne, Patrick Nixon-Youman, Justin Green, Supo Sanni, Tommy Davis and Jack Ramsey have all used up the last of their eligibility in Champagne while three-year safety Steve Hull is switching to wide receiver to try and avoid any more injuries. That’s 199 tackles, six of the team’s top seven tacklers in the secondary, and the team’s top two defenders in interceptions that will have to be replaced next fall.
That will open the door for some fresh faces to get into the mix and try their hand at holding down the Illini defense next season. Senior Ben Mathis expects to get some extra looks after recording one tackle in his only game last season while sophomores Eaton Spence and V’Angelo Bentley will look to flourish in expanded roles after combining for 27 tackles during 2012. The team will also be taking a look at redshirt freshmen Taylor Barton and B.J. Bello to fill out their secondary.
They will all be trying to join junior Earnest Thomas, who emerged during his sophomore season as the No. 1 defender in the secondary, finishing No. 4 on the team and No. 1 in the secondary with 69 tackles, including two tackles for loss and a sack. He also forced three fumbles and had one interception in 2012, numbers he will likely need to improve on in 2013 for Illinois to turn its fortunes around.
After finishing No. 93 in scoring defense a year ago, perhaps some new blood in the secondary will be a good thing for Illinois. Will a rebuilt secondary help the Illini improve in 2013?