We are into the month of August, and that means Illinois football is right around the corner.
With the season on the horizon, that also means it is time to look at who could possibly start for the Illini in 2023. There are plenty of possibilities, and now that Bret Bielema is the head coach, Illinois actually has some quality depth.
Here is the projected 2023 Illinois football depth chart – defense
Defensive Lineman #1
- Starter: Jer’Zhan Newton
Illinois has an all-timer on its hands with Johnny Newton. Last season, Newton made the All-Big Ten first team and was either a second or third-team All-American. He now enters the 2023 campaign as a preseason first-team All-American and one of the projected top-20 picks in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Obviously, I have Newton starting on the Illinois defensive line. The Illini can go back and forth between a 3-4 and a nickel look, but regardless, the defensive line will have some monsters up front. Newton is going to be the anchor that holds down the Illinois defense this season. I am excited to see how he handles more double teams. This is going to be a true test for this incredible talent.
- 2nd String: Bryce Barnes
As the primary backup to Newton, I have Bryce Barnes leading the way. He is a senior this season and will provide some valuable depth and experience. Barnes played in 12 games last season for the Illini, and he would finish the year with eight tackles. I expect him to fill in a few times per game.
- 3rd String: Dylan Davis
On the third string, I have Dylan Davis. He is someone who transferred into the Illinois program in 2022 but switched positions. Davis was an FCS freshman All-American in 2021 as an offensive lineman. He then became a defensive tackle in 2022. Davis didn’t see action on the defense, though. His only two games for the Illini came on special teams. He also took a redshirt.
- 4th String: Evan Kirts
Illinois snagged Evan Kirts from the class of 2019. He hasn’t played much since joining Illini, with his first action coming last season on special teams. Kirts would make two tackles in 2022. I expect him to be a fourth-string player for Illinois in 2023.