Coming off a disastrous 2012 campaign, the Illinois Fighting Illini are looking to open up the offense in 2013 in an attempt to put more points up on the board. Nathan Scheelhaase will air it out more often next season under new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit and the Illini need someone to step up at receiver. Is Justin Hardee the man for the job?
Illinois feels like it’s in good hands for the No. 1 receiver spot with Ryan Lankford returning for his senior season. Lankford led the Illini with 37 catches for 469 yards and five touchdowns. He needs help, however, to take the defensive focus off of him next fall and open up the big plays down the field. That is where Hardee can make an impact.
During his freshman season, Hardee showed some flashes of playmaking ability, catching 17 passes for 192 yards, averaging 11.29 yards per catch (good for No. 3 on the team). He failed to find the end zone, but could play his way into a bigger role next fall thanks in part to a strong spring performance. During the Illinois spring game, Hardee had 104 receiving yards and put himself on the coaching staff’s radar heading into the summer workouts.
If Illinois hopes to improve on their dismal effort from 2012, they have to score more points. They will try and get that done by opening up the offense in 2013 with an up-tempo attack with a greater emphasis on the passing game. For that work, Illinois has to get playmakers to step up. Can Hardee answer the call in his sophomore season?