5 Illinois football players who will battle for their job in spring practice

Sep 8, 2023; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini running back Aidan Laughery (21)
Sep 8, 2023; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini running back Aidan Laughery (21) / Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
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4. LB Kenenna Odeluga

The Illinois linebacker corps was underwhelming, to say the least in 2023. I like what the Illini got out of Dylan Rosiek, as he led the team with 82 tackles and had four forced fumbles and three pass deflections on the year.

Heading into spring practice, I imagine he would be locked into a starting linebacker role for Illinois. But I think there could end up being a competition for the other middle linebacker job on the first string.

Kenenna Odeluga was in this role last season. He played alongside Rosiek. Odeluga played 321 snaps for the Illinois defense, and he had an overall grade of 70.2, which was the best on the team among middle linebackers.

But Odeluga is dealing with some injury issues. He went down with an ankle injury in late November and had surgery on it that same week. This injury could easily last into spring practice, and we might not even get a chance to see Odeulga until the fall.

With Odeluga potentially being out for spring practice, this gives someone else a chance to step up in his place and maybe even earn a starting job come the fall.

A player I am keeping an eye on is James Kreutz. The bother of center Josh, James had a chance to play 83 snaps for the Illinois defense in 2023, and he finished the year with 18 tackles, one sack, and one fumble recovery.

I think there is going to be a fight for a starting linebacker role in 2024. If Kreutz can shine during spring practice, there is a chance he can take the reins and be one of our starting linebackers this upcoming season.