The Illinois Fighting Illini defense was downright awful in 2012. Tim Beckman couldn’t seem to find answers as Illinois surrendered more than 32 points per game and ranked No. 95 in scoring defense. Part of the reason, though far from the only reason, was their defensive leader, linebacker Jonathan Brown, was banged up for much of the season. Can a healthy Brown make a difference in 2013?
When at 100 percent, Brown showed that he can be one of the top linebackers in the Big Ten. During his sophomore season in 2011, Brown recorded 108 tackles, including 19.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, an interception, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. He was all over the field for Illinois and earned second-team All-Big Ten for his efforts.
Expectations were high for the linebacker in his junior season, but nagging injuries kept him from really playing to his full ability and was limited to just nine games of action. He was still able to tally 59 tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, however, which aren’t bad numbers. They simply aren’t anywhere near the numbers he is capable of posting with a clean bill of health.
Illinois will need Brown to be at his physical best in 2013 if they hope to build their program into a winner next fall. The senior linebacker has the ability to disrupt offenses and make plays all over the field and was named to Phil Steele’s preseason All-Big Ten first-team based on that ability. Can he stay on the field to put that ability on display next season?