Members of the Illini defensive line, including Jake Howe (#95), Austin Teitsma (#44), Michael Buchanan (#90), gather during a Camp Rantoul practice on Thursday, August 19, 2010.

Assuming the Position: Breaking Down the Fighting Illini Defensive Linemen


The Illini defensive linemen prepare to go through an agility drill at Camp Rantoul.

The fifth edition of Writing Illini’s position breakdowns goes inside the trenches to analyze the defensive line.

In 2009, Illinois struggled to stop both the run and the pass. The Illini were last in the Big Ten in passing defense and 8th in rushing defense.

In order for the defense to transform from last in total defense to a real threat in the conference, the first step is for the D-line to get more pressure in the backfield.

Reinventing the Defense

Illini D.J. Woods (#90), Akeem Spence (#94), Jake Howe (#95) and other defensive linemen teammates work out at Camp Rantoul.

With the new coaching staff, the defensive line has undergone some serious changes heading into this season.

Much like the changes that have occurred under new offensive coordinator Paul Petrino in the offensive line’s schemes, the defensive line is packing a different look in 2010.

New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning has created a new position for this year’s defense, a hybrid between a defensive end and an outside linebacker that has been dubbed the “Bandit.”

The Bandit is supposed to be able to rush the passer or drop back into pass coverage. Ideally, this dual threat will confuse opposing offenses and keep opposing quarterbacks guessing.

The Defensive End Depth Chart

Opening Day Starter: #97 Clay Nurse

Illini defensive lineman Corey Liuget (#93), Clay Nurse (#97) and Tim Kynard (#59) stand around at Camp Rantoul.

Year: Redshirt Senior

Height / Weight: 6’-3” / 230 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: 32 games (23 Big Ten), 6 starts

Career Tackles: 40

Career Sacks: 6

Career Fumbles Forced: 1

The Backup Plan: #54 Justin Staples

Year: Redshirt Sophomore

Height / Weight: 6’-4” / 230 lbs

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

Career Tackles: 1

Career Sacks: 0

Illini defensive linemen D.J. Woods (#90) and Michael Buchanan (#99) participate in drills at Camp Rantoul.

Career Fumbles Forced: 1

The Third Stringer: #90 D.J. Woods

Year: Freshman

Height / Weight: 6’-3” / 214 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: None

Career Tackles: 0

Career Sacks: 0

Career Fumbles Forced: 0

The Defensive Tackle Depth Chart

Opening Day Starter: #93 Corey Liuget

Year: Junior

Height / Weight: 6’-3” / 300 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: 23 games (15 Big Ten), 6 starts

Career Tackles: 61

Career Sacks: 5

Career Fumbles Forced: 2

Illini defensive lineman Corey Liuget (#93), running back Mikel Leshoure (#5) and cornerback Terry Hawthorne (#1) walk around the Camp Rantoul field.

Opening Day Starter: #94 Akeem Spence

Year: Redshirt Freshman

Height / Weight: 6’-1” / 305 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: None

Career Tackles: 0

Career Sacks: 0

Career Fumbles Forced: 0

The Backup Plan: #47 Glenn Foster

Year: Redshirt Sophomore

Height / Weight: 6’-4” / 260 lbs

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

Career Tackles: 0

Career Sacks: 0

Illini defensive lineman Akeem Spence (#94), linebacker Brandon Denmark (#8) and an unidentified teammate chat it up at Camp Rantoul.

Career Fumbles Forced: 0

The Backup Plan: #98 Daryle Ballew

Year: Redshirt Junior

Height / Weight: 6’-1” / 310 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: 21 games (13 Big Ten), 0 starts

Career Tackles: 2

Career Sacks: 0

Career Fumbles Forced: 0

The Third String: #85 Whitney Mercilus

Year: Redshirt Sophomore

Height / Weight: 6’-3” / 265 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: 11 games (7 Big Ten), 0 starts

Illini defensive linemen Daryle Ballew (#98) and Glenn Foster (#47) have different views of life at Camp Rantoul.

Career Tackles: 8

Career Sacks: 1

Career Fumbles Forced: 0

The Third String: #96 Wisdom Onyegblue

Year: Junior

Height / Weight: 6’-3” / 280 lbs

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

Career Tackles: 1

Career Sacks: 1

Career Fumbles Forced: 0

Illini defensive lineman Michael Buchanan (#99), Justin Staples (#54) and Akeem Spence (#94) get some coaching at Camp Rantoul.

The Bandit Depth Chart

Opening Day Starter: #99 Michael Buchanan

Year: Sophomore

Height / Weight: 6’-6” – 225 lbs

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

Career Tackles: 0

Career Sacks: 0

Career Fumbles Forced: 0

The Backup Plan: #48 Nate Palmer

Year: Redshirt Sophomore

Height / Weight: 6’-3” / 220 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: 12 games (8 Big Ten), 0 starts

Career Tackles: 3

Career Sacks: 0

Illini defensive linemen Tim Kynard (#59) and Austin Teitsma (#44) briefly take off their helmets at Camp Rantoul.

Career Fumbles Forced: 0

The Third Stringer: #59 Tim Kynard

Year: Redshirt Freshman

Height / Weight: 6’-3” / 255 lbs

Collegiate Game Experience: None

Career Tackles: 0

Career Sacks: 0

Career Fumbles Forced: 0

Now-and-Then

The following Illini players are defensive 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.

→ #44 Austin Teitsma*

→ #95  Jake Howe*

Some Thoughts on the Illini Defensive Line

Illini defensive lineman Wisdom Onyegbule (#96) waits his turn during a drill at Camp Rantoul.

In order for the Illini to win more games this season than last, Illinois’ defensive line will have to perform much better.

As far as the defensive side of the ball is concerned, the D-line is the most certain of all the positions, which is a bit worrisome when considering that 2 of the 4 expected starters have yet to make a tackle at the college level

With that said, it will still be interesting to see how the defensive line handles itself under this new scheme. The Bandit position sounds interesting provided that the players have a full grasp of its workings when the season starts.

Writing Illini Projections

While the Bandit will prove helpful in Illinois’ early non-conference games, it will lose any element of surprise and confusion by the time conference play starts.

The line will have to work that much harder to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks and help a relatively young Illini secondary avoid getting picked apart.

Much like the offensive line, the defensive line will not likely receive the credit that it deserves for leading this defense, but its pressure and run-stopping abilities will be key to the team’s success on this side of the ball in 2010.

Preseason Defensive Line Grade: B-/C+

With the exception of some inexperience, there is no specific weakness on this year’s line. With that said, no strengths jump out either.

The players must be cautious not to expect the confusion created by the Bandit to carry over to conference play, where opponents will have been studying every snap for the past three games.

Expect the defensive line to grow more comfortable in their roles as the season progresses.

Now whether that translates into more success than last year is a major storyline worth following.

Tags: Akeem Spence Austin Teitsma Clay Nurse Corey Liuget D.J. Woods Daryle Ballew Football Glenn Foster Illini Football Illinois Fighting Illini Football Illinois Football Jake Howe Justin Staples Michael Buchanan Nate Palmer Paul Petrino Ron Zook Tim Kynard Vic Koenning Whitney Mercilus Wisdom Onyegblue