There’s no doubt that the defensive side of the ball was the weakest side for the Illinois Fighting Illini in 2013.
Each week during Big Ten conference play, the Illini defense gave up huge amounts of yards to opposing running backs. Illini Nation is hoping that the defense gets a lot better in 2014. Because of that, we continue our 2014 Illinois Fighting Illini football player previews with sophomore outside linebacker T.J. Neal.
- Position: Outside Linebacker
- Hometown: McKeeseport, Pennsylvania
- High School: McKeeseport
- Measurements: 6-foot-1, 235 lb.
- Age at 2014 season opener: 20
- Games played: 13
- Cumulative stats: 38 total tackles, 15 solo tackles, 1 tackle-for-loss
- Games played: 12
- Cumulative stats: 38 total tackles, 15 solo tackles, 23 assisted tackles, 1 tackle-for-loss
This offseason, the Illinois Fighting Illini lost two of their most successful outside rushers, Jonathan Brown (NFL Draft) and Houston Bates (transfer).
That means someone will need to step up for the Illini in 2014, and that player is T.J. Neal.
Neal played his first “official” season for the Orange & Blue in 2013. He played in a single game in 2012, but was redshirted for the rest of the season.
As a redshirt freshman in 2013, Neal had a positive season (personally). He finished the season in the Top 10 on the team in total tackles and played in 12 of Illinois’ 13 games (missed only the Miami (OH) game).
It appears that Neal and Mike Svetina will be the major players for the Fighting Illini on the outside with Mason Monheim being in the middle.
Despite being just a sophomore, T.J. Neal will need to be the man for the Illini on the outside. His 2013 tackle numbers were similar to Houston Bates’ numbers. However, Bates was able to cause more havoc in the backfield than Neal did.
Illini Nation hopes that Neal can make an impact in the opponents’ backfield in 2014. The main three linebackers this season will most likely be Svetina, Monheim, and Neal.