If Illinois Football plans on having its defense return to the dominating form that it was in 2011 under then coach Vic Koenning, one of the key members of that D is going to have to step up and return to form as well.
Senior Jonathan Brown probably had penciled his name into the NFL Draft as an early entrant before last season started, but things don’t always go as planned. The Illini junior linebacker suffered a shoulder injury and was held out of the final three games of the season, effectively ending any thoughts Brown might have had about leaving school early.
Despite only playing in nine games in 2012, Brown led the defense in tackles for loss with 9.5, including 2.5 sacks, and finished the campaign 5th on the team in total tackles with 59.
These numbers don’t immediately scream NFL star, but there are underlying factors behind this drop in production when one considers the shoulder injury situation, and the change at defensive coordinator.
There may not be a more important player for the entire Illini squad heading into the 2013 season, and here’s why.
Jonathan Brown has the potential to be the glue that holds the line backing corps together, and in turn holding every player on the defense together when things may not be going their way.
To be that glue, Brown needs to provide senior leadership to the entire defense through his production on the field. He is fully capable of achieving this end, solely based off his past history which includes an outstanding sophomore season that led many to believe his junior year would be even better.
During his sophomore campaign, Brown led the much lauded 2011 Illini defense in tackles with 108, and finished 2nd behind 1st round NFL draft pick Whitney Mercilus in tackles for loss with 19.5, including six sacks. He also managed to intercept one pass as well. What is most impressive in all of this is that he led the entire Big Ten Conference in tackles for loss with 14.5 during conference play.
Because of this stellar production, Brown was named to the 2012 Butkus Award Preseason Watch List, as well as the 2012 Lombardi Award Preseason Watch List. As noted above, however, his production sagged in 2012 and expectations were not met.
With a full season of practices behind him in defensive coordinator Tim Banks’ scheme, there is nowhere to go but up. Hopefully, this season will bring a healthy, and revitalized, Jonathan Brown who showcases his nonstop motor and the natural nose for the ball that he possesses. If Brown returns to the All Big Ten form he is capable of, I believe he will lift the rest of the front seven up with him, and the Illini will have a great shot at winning a few more games than they did last season.
Bigger and better things may be on the horizon for him at the next level, but it’s imperative that he comes out and focuses on dominating Big Ten opponents in this entire upcoming season. If he does that, the NFL will surely come calling in May of 2014.
2013 Stat Predictions: 110 Total Tackles, 5 Sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF, 1 FR
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