Illinois football: Key Illini players announce they will return in 2023

The 2023 season just got much more exciting for the Illinois football team.

Head coach Bret Bielema and the Illini coaching staff couldn’t have asked for a better start to the 2023 offseason.  Just one week after the season finale, not only did Illinois land Malik Elzy, but many crucial pieces from this past season’s team announced they will be back for more next year.

Let’s dive into who just announced they will be returning to the Illinois football team in 2023.

Nearly the entire offensive line

One thing for next season is certain, the offensive line will not be an issue.  Four experienced offensive linemen, which includes three starters, will be back leading the way.

Senior running back Chase Brown had a monster season, finishing fourth in the country with 1,643 rushing yards.  Many even considered him a Heisman candidate. Without a good offensive line, none of that is possible.

First, it was junior left guard Isaiah Adams who announced his intentions to come back next season.

Adams led the team with 120.5 knockdowns this season.  He earned All-Big Ten third-team honors and was the third-highest-graded guard in the conference by PFF.

Jordyn Slaughter was next.

The junior played the “sixth man” role of the offensive line this season.  Slaughter saw action in a few games, notably starting at left guard vs. Indiana in place of injured junior Julian Pearl.

Slaughter will likely start next season now that left tackle Avery Jones will not be transferring from East Carolina.

Most recently, it was left tackle Pearl who joined his fellow returning offensive linemen.

Pearl started 11 of 12 games last season at left tackle – arguably the most crucial position in football.  He will be protecting the blindside of the new man under center next season.

Last, but not least for the offensive line, freshman starting right guard Zy Crisler will be back for year two.

Tarique Barnes

Linebacker Tarique Barnes got the “I’m back” trend started up when making his announcement on Thursday.

The junior finished fourth on the team with 36 solo tackles.  He finished the year with 46 total tackles, adding 1.5 sacks and two passes defended. His play earned him All-Big Ten honorable mention honors.

With senior linebacker Isaac Darkangelo’s departure, Barnes, a senior, will be the leader of the defense next season.

And now the best for last.

Isaiah Williams

Illini Nation learned on Monday it will see more of “Mr. Do It All” in 2023.

The sophomore was Tommy DeVito’s favorite target this season leading the way with team highs of 81 receptions, 709 receiving yards, and five receiving touchdowns. He also led the team with his 120 punt return yards.

There is no doubt in my mind that Williams will be this team’s most utilized piece next season. Aside from catching passes, we may see him return more punts – maybe kickoffs – and may even line up under center at times.

Nothing would surprise us.