The Illinois football program is led by the offensive line, as they bring one of the best squads they have had in the past decade to the table in 2020.
One can point to skill positions as a reason why the Illini will win games this upcoming season. Senior Brandon Peters will be the starting quarterback. Seniors Josh Imatorbhebhe, Trevon Sidney and Ricky Smalling will be catching the ball at wide receiver.
The talent continues with sophomore Luke Ford starting at tight end. He was a top recruit just a couple of years ago and transferred into the program before last season. But, without a great offensive line, none of those positions can perform at the highest level.
In 2019, the Illinois offensive line performed well. Pro Football Focus (PFF.com) ranked the Illini offensive line as the No. 11 best squad in the nation. Their notes on the hogs up front pointed out how good the interior line was and how Kendrick Green was the fourth-highest run-blocking guard in the nation.
Another note that PFF pointed out was how good the entire unit was for the Orange and Blue last year. They had the Illini ranked as the No. 17 best offensive line when it came to run-blocking. Illinois also allowed pressure on Peters only 18-percent of the time he dropped back.
I would venture to say the offensive line was a huge reason why we got back to a bowl game in 2019. Many teams that see success up front usually have key players depart the program. That wasn’t the case for the Illini, though.
The only starting offensive lineman to leave from last year’s squad was right guard, Richie Petitbon. Besides for him, the other four starters are coming back for one more season together. And, again, PFF is taking notice of the return of the talented Illini offensive linemen.
In their newest grades for returning Power 5 interior offensive linemen, PFF has center Doug Kramer checking in as the No. 5 best lineman. Following him at No. 6 on the list is left guard, Kendrick Green. So, out of all interior linemen in the nation, Illinois has two of the top six according to PFF. That is incredibly impressive.
Illinois returns both Kramer and Green for the upcoming 2020 campaign. Along with those two, both starting tackles in Alex Palczewski (RT) and Vederian Lowe (LT) are back for their final season as well. As previously mentioned, Petitbon departed the program, but I believe he is being replaced by incoming graduate transfer Blake Jeresaty. I believe Jeresaty and Verdis Brown will be battling for the starting job at right guard.
The heart and soul of the Illinois offense is the line. If you win the line of scrimmage, then you win games. This is one of the main reasons fans should be excited about the upcoming campaign. Illinois will have one of the best offensive lines in the nation, and that should mean more wins in 2020.