Illinois Football: Illini linebacker corps takes transfer portal hit

The Illinois football team had a bit of a shake-up on Wednesday afternoon.

Right after the season concludes is when most players enter the transfer portal. But a trend over the last couple of years has been that once the spring game for a player ends, they enter their name into the portal.

If you have been looking at the headlines lately, you will see it happening a lot with a program like Colorado. Every team goes through this change, as well as losing players to the NFL Draft, and the Illini are no exception.

On Wednesday afternoon, Illinois lost a member of the family. Linebacker Calvin Hart decided to end his time with the Illini and enter his name into the transfer portal. He is a graduate transfer and has one year left of eligibility.

Illinois football loses some depth at linebacker with Calvin Hart entering the transfer portal

Losing a player to the transfer portal is never enjoyable, especially when it comes to a player like Hart. He was the first player to transfer into the program once Bret Bielema was hired.

After two seasons at North Carolina State, Hart made his way to Champaign. His first season was cut short in game one, but he was sensational against Nebraska. He scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown. I will never forget that game.

Hart’s 2022 campaign was pretty solid as well. He finished the year with 22 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 0.5 sacks. He was a nice depth piece for the Illini, but now he is departing for greener pastures.

With Hart now off the roster, this leaves Illinois with a thinner linebacker corps. A lot of the snaps will be on the shoulders of someone like Tarique Barnes. He finished 2022 with 45 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 pass deflections, and 1.5 sacks. He also started every game and was All-Big Ten honorable mention.

I am curious about who else steps up into a prime linebacker role. Some of the names I am keeping an eye on will be Kenenna Edeluga, Dylan Rosiek, Ryan Meed, and maybe even freshman Jojo Hayden.

Illinois has a pretty solid roster. There aren’t a ton of weaknesses, but I would say inside linebacker might be a point where opposing teams can attack. The summer is long, though. There is plenty of time for improvement.