The Illinois Fighting Illini Football program filled a huge need yesterday when 247sports.com, 4 star ranked, Jihad Ward committed to suit up in the orange and blue next season.
— JIHAD WARD (@HADDY__) December 20, 2013
The Illini’s inability to control the defensive line of scrimmage cost them dearly last season in the run game, and their defensive lines inability to get to the passer cost them in the passing game all season long because it put too much pressure on the young secondary in coverage. As the season wore on, it became very apparent that a DT was a must get in this recruiting class. Thankfully, it appears as though the Illini got a mountain of a man to fill this glaring need.
Illinois beat out offers from Tennessee, South Florida, West Virginia, Temple, Texas Tech, and Washington for the services of this 6’7”, 286 pound DT from Globe Institute of Technology (NY).
You can watch his highlight video here.
After watching his film, you can immediately see that he isn’t your prototypical space eating type of DT. Rather, he has the ability rush from the edge as well. As important as the commitment of Tyrin Stone-Davis and G Mo Allison were to backfill the vacant wide receiver production on the offensive side of the ball, Ward’s commitment is potentially even bigger from the defensive side of the ball.
In addition to having the versatility of being able to play both inside and outside on the line, he seems to have great ball awareness. There are several times you can see him moving to get off the block well before a running back gets to the hole so that he is in position to make a play. The Illinois defensive line needs instinctual guys like this in order to be successful.
One final positive thing that stood out to me, and that I really appreciated seeing from him, is that he doesn’t give up on the play even when it gets by him. He continues pursuit through the end of the play, and often times the end result was a tackle that in all honesty should have already been made by a linebacker.
Amidst all the positive praise it would feel wrong not to make mention of one thing that should be obvious when watching the film. The level of talent he is facing on tape clearly seems to be overmatched when facing him. His technique is a little rough, so the coaches still have some work to do. With that being said, Illini fans should temper their expectations slightly right away and allow him some time to learn the speed of the Big Ten game. Once he does, it really looks like Illinois may have found a truly great defensive line talent that fans should be able to expect production from once he gets some snaps at this level under his belt.
It’s very possible that he could end up being the most important recruit in this class simply because the need at DT/DE is so glaring for the Illini. Obviously, time will tell, but on paper, and on film, this looks like one colossal get from a needs standpoint.
Welcome aboard, Jihad Ward, the Illini defensive front definitely needed your services!
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.