Spring practice and the spring game are coming up here in late March and early April for the Illinois football program.
With some semblance of football on the horizon, it is time to look at who could be fighting for a starting job or an important role on the Illini depth chart as we enter the spring.
Here are five Illinois football players who will battle for their job in spring practice
1. WR Ashton Hollins
Illinois football dealt with a lot of departures this offseason. A position that took a lot of production hit was at wide receiver.
Both Isaiah Williams and Casey Washington departed the program, leaving Pat Bryant as the leading returning wide receiver for the Illini. He finished the 2023 campaign with 43 catches for 560 yards and seven touchdowns. He also out-snapped every returning Illini wide receiver combined by nearly double with his 541 snaps on the year.
Second in snaps among those returning is Ashton Hollins. He played 124 snaps on offense and had nine receptions for 119 yards. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, and the fact he finished with a grade of 63.5 according to Pro Football Focus makes me think he will have to fight for the No. 2 wide receiver role in spring practice.
Illinois has a bunch of pass catchers waiting in the bullpen. I think there are two likely candidates to take the role of the second prime starter at wide receiver on the Illinois depth chart.
Malik Elzy is the first option. He was a four-star recruit coming out of Simeon Career Academy in 2023. Elzy played in nine games as a freshman, so he burned his redshirt. He finished with five receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown. I could easily see the 6-foot-2 monster increasing his snap count from 78 snaps this past season to over 500 snaps in the 2024 campaign.
I would also keep an eye on Kenari Wilcher. Not as highly touted coming out of high school, Wilcher did well acclimating to the Illinois offense in year one. He only saw 25 snaps in 10 games, but Wilcher still finished with four catches for 41 yards.