Assuming the Position: Breaking Down the Fighting Illini Offensive Linemen

The fourth installment of Writing Illini’s position breakdowns dissects the Illinois offensive line.

In football, the offensive and defensive lines may not be the most glamorous positions, but they are typically one of the most important, and certainly the “meat and potatoes” on very good teams.

In 2010, the Illinois O-line will have the challenge of protecting a new quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase and creating holes for Illinois’ running back tandem of Mikel Leshoure and Jason Ford.

Due to the inexperience at quarterback and the fact that the Illini likely will rely heavily on the run game this year, the line will have to protect against defenses that will stack the line of scrimmage and blitz often.

The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall

Going into the season, juniors Jeff Allen (#71 above) and Corey Lewis appeared to be locks at the starting offensive tackles, with both players having two years of experience and bringing the energy and work ethic needed for this most demanding position.

When breaking down the running game last week, the offensive line was mentioned for its critical role of blocking for the star running backs and keeping the pressure off the young quarterbacks.

Just as it looked like Illinois had the duo in place to create holes for the backs, neutralize pass rushes from opponent defensive ends, and protect from blitzing outside linebackers and pesky cornerbacks, disaster struck.

On April 24th during Illinois’ spring game at Memorial Stadium, Lewis tore his ACL and will be sidelined for the season as he undergoes and recovers from surgery.

In his absence, redshirt senior Ryan Palmer has moved into a starting position. Palmer is not a bad replacement as he has played to an extent in games for the past three years, including on the 2007 Rose Bowl Squad.

However, there was a reason that Lewis beat Palmer for the job, and his absence on the line will be noticed.

Examining the Illini Offensive Line

Before going into the depth chart, it’s important to note the terminology of new offensive coordinator Paul Petrino’s pro-style offense.

Petrino does not use traditional terms like left and right guard, or left and right tackle.

Rather, he describes his players as weak-side and strong-side linemen, terminology that allows them to shift from side to side in certain formations and schemes.

You can learn more about this terminology in John Supinie’s incredibly timely article.

With that said, I will use traditional terminology when detailing the depth chart.

The Center Depth Chart

Opening Day Starter: #76 Graham Pocic

Year: Redshirt Sophomore

Height / Weight: 6’-7” / 305 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: 10 games (7 Big Ten), 0 starts

The Backup Plan: #61 Tyler Sands

Year: Redshirt Sophomore

Height / Weight: 6’-5” / 305 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: 3 games (2 Big Ten), 1 start

The Third Stringer: #69 Ryan Sedlacek

Year: Sophomore

Height / Weight: 6’-4” / 300 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: None

The Offensive Guard Depth Chart

Opening Day Starter: #72 Hugh Thornton

Year: Sophomore

Height / Weight: 6’-5” / 310 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: 7 games (5 Big Ten), 7 starts

Opening Day Starter: #66 Randall Hunt

Year: Senior

Height / Weight: 6’-6” / 315 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: 19 games (13 Big Ten), 11 starts

The Backup Plan: #73 Jack Cornell

Year: Redshirt Junior

Height / Weight: 6’-5” / 315 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: 3 games (1 Big Ten), 0 starts

The Backup Plan: #55 Anterio Jackson

Year: Redshirt Senior

Height / Weight: 6’-2” / 300 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: 1 game (1 Big Ten), 0 starts

The Third Stringer: #67 Jake Feldmeyer

Year: Redshirt Freshman

Height / Weight: 6’-4” / 280 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: None

The Offensive Tackle Depth Chart

Opening Day Starter: #71 Jeff Allen

Year: Junior

Height / Weight: 6’-5” / 305 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: 23 games (16 Big Ten), 21 starts

Opening Day Starter: #78 Ryan Palmer

Year: Redshirt Senior

Height / Weight: 6’-7” / 310 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: 23 games

(14 Big  Ten), 8 starts

Palmer was expected to be a backup to Corey Lewis going into the season. After Lewis’

injury, he was moved to the top spot.

The Backup Plan: #79 Craig Wilson

Year: Redshirt Junior

Height / Weight: 6’-5” / 320 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: 18 games (13 Big Ten), 0 starts

The Backup Plan: #64 Nate Swanson

Year: Redshirt Freshman

Height / Weight: 6’-8” / 325 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: None

The Third Stringer: #52 Alex Hill

Year: Freshman

Height / Weight: 6’-3” / 343 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: None

Now-and-Then

The following Illini players are offensive linemen who are active members of the team, but are not expected to see action on the field this year. An asterisks by the player’s name denotes that they are available to redshirt the season should the coaches choose for them to do so.

→ #74 Michael Heitz*

→ #68 Somon Cvijanovic*

→ #56 Shawn Afryl*

→ #65 Joe VanderHeyden*

Some Thoughts on the Illini Offensive Line

While the loss of Lewis is disappointing, as long as no other injuries occur during the preseason, the Illini offensive line should be decent enough and fare well this year.

However, if the line should suffer further injury, it will lack the depth to fill any more voids.

With opposing defenses sure to be very blitz-happy around the Illini this year, injuries could spell disaster for this squad.

Writing Illini Projections

Barring any more injuries, the experience and strength of this years line stands up well under Petrino’s pro-style offense.

While Illinois’ achievements (and failures) will most likely be attributed to the star players, the players forming this year’s O-line will be instrumental to the team’s ability to rush the ball (considered an Illini strength) and overall offensive success.

Preseason Offensive Line Grade: B

While it will l have to work extra hard this year to protect the young quarterback and running backs, the veteran line should be up for the challenge.

Expect solid if not spectacular play from these players as they do the dirty work to help make the rest of the Illinois offense look good.

Tags: Alex Hill Anterio Jackson Assuming The Position Corey Lewis Craig Wilson Football Graham Pocic Hugh Thornton Illini Football Illinois Football Jack Cornell Jake Feldmeyer Jason Ford Jeff Allen Joe VanderHeyden John Supinie Michael Heitz Mikel Leshoure Nate Swanson Nathan Scheelhaase Paul Petrino Randall Hunt Ron Zook Ryan Palmer Ryan Sedlacek Shawn Afryl Somon Cvijanovic Tyler Sands

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