The defense of the Illinois football team is going to be one of the keys to success this upcoming season.
That solid defense we saw last year had multiple players depart to the NFL Draft. This was supposed to leave holes in the team, but for the Illini, it is a next-man-up mentality.
One of those talented players that went into the NFL Draft was defensive end, Jihad Ward. He was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the 2nd round of the draft.
Ward’s production is going to be hard to top. He had 54 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. That could be difficult to replace, on most teams.
But, Illinois has the player to replace Ward and could actually be just as good or potentially better.
Defensive end Dawuane Smoot received some solid playing time last season, at times in the absences of Ward.
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Smoot made the most of the playing time he received last season. He compiled 41 total tackles in which 15 of those were for losses.
Those 15 tackles for losses break down into about 1.3 TLPG. That is a tie for 25th best in all of college football. It also tied one of the top draft picks and Ohio State star, Joey Bosa.
Smoot was also a nightmare when it came to sacking the quarterback as well. He had 8 sacks in the playing time he received. This averaged out to about .67 sacks per game, which ranked 37th in the nation last season.
The production Smoot displayed last year wasn’t just beating up on the cake walk teams either. He had 5 of his 8 sacks and 30 of his 41 tackles in Big Ten play.
One of Smoots best games was against Nebraska last season. He had 5 tackles and a sack to help the Illini take down the Cornhuskers 14-13.
Illinois is now entering the 2016 season with high hopes for Smoot and the defensive line. This squad should be pretty special this year.
With Smoot being the No. 1 man and his future on the line, I expect to see increased production in 2016.
I am looking for Smoot to be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. He should rack up around 50-60 tackles this season. I am hoping he also hits the double digit sack mark as well.
There is no doubt in my mind that Smoot with play well and I also think he will be a high draft pick, potentially 1st round.
Smoot has the talent, now let’s see what he can do with an NFL head coach teaching him how to get to the next level.