3 days to Western Michigan
Counting down the 50 most important Illini
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No. 3: Jonathan Brown, linebacker.
Why he's important: He tackles everybody. At least, he did last year, leading the team in stops as a sophomore. The way he looks and the way he has been running around on the practice field, the Memphis product seems ready to do it again. Brown's value also includes his ability to get into the backfield and disrupt the passing game, while also dropping back into coverage and giving smallish receivers something to think about. His tackle totals jumped from 31 to 108 last season. Don't be surprised if he leads the Big Ten in tackles this season and ranks among the top five nationally. If that happens, he will be under consideration for a string of national awards. And he should be an easy choice for All-Big Ten. Brown cost himself a game last season with a knee to the groin of a Northwestern player. The new coaches are aware of the incident and have cautioned Brown to keep himself out of that kind of trouble. They want him to remain aggressive, but they want it to be within the rules and with good sportsmanship. Brown has taken on a leadership role with the linebackers, which became even more important when Henry Dickinson was lost for the season. Brown will be the one telling the young guys, "It will be all right."
Fast fact: A talented two-way player in high school (he scored 12 touchdowns as a running back), Brown picked Illinois over a pack of schools in the South, including Arkansas, Mississippi, Memphis, Kentucky and Mississippi State.
Tomorrow: No. 2