Illinois Football: How the Ricky Smalling departure affects the Illini

The Illinois football team went through some changes over the weekend.

It looks like the Illini won’t have three experienced players on the roster when the 2020 season kicks off this fall. The three players who the Orange and Blue will be without include Ricky Smalling, Ra’Von Bonner and Jake Cerny.

Smalling won’t be returning to the Illinois football program altogether. He is departing after spending three years with the Illini and amassing 88 catches for 1,141 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Bonner is departing due to COVID-19 concerns but hopes to be back next season. Cerny was originally reported to be doing the same, but a report on Tuesday says that the University of Illinois said the departure wasn’t due to COVID-19 concerns.

How do these departures affect the Illinois roster?

I think we can all agree that the Cerny departure is going to hit the Illini the least. He is a player who gave everything to this program, but he wasn’t going to make much of an impact in 2020. The most we would need him is on special teams and as a deep backup role on the offensive line.

Bonner is going to hurt the Illinois offense slightly. The running back rushed for 225 yards and 3 touchdowns as a junior, but he only averaged 3.5 yards per carry. Depth will take a little bit of a hit, but Illinois has the talent at running back to fill the void.

The player who will impact the Illini the most is Smalling. I had Smalling as a starting wide receiver alongside Josh Imatorbhebhe and Trevon Sidney. Those plans are clearly changing, though. I am not sure what went wrong with Smalling and Illinois.

It is going to have to be next-man-up at wide receiver. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Casey Washington step into the starting role after a great freshman campaign. I think Washington has what it takes to be a top wide receiver in the Big Ten.

Next: Impact of Theodore Lockley decommitting from Illini

Depth is the main thing that took a hit over the weekend. Illinois should be able to recover from these departures, but whenever you lose a player, it hurts the team. I wish nothing but the best for Smalling and Cerny, and I wish Bonner a healthy year. I completely understand his decision and don’t blame him one bit for sitting out.

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