UI football 2-deep

Illinois has never lost to Southern Illinois, its in-state foe three hours down Interstate 57. Illinois has won all three meetings against the Salukis, who the Illini will open the 2013 season against on Aug. 31 at Memorial Stadium. Staff writer Matt Daniels casts a sneak peek about what Tim Beckman’s two-deep might look like by then, even if Beckman isn’t exactly tipping his hand after mixing starters and backups together during the spring game:

Offense
QB
Starter: Nathan Scheelhaase
Backup: Reilly O’Toole
RB
Starter: Donovonn Young
Backup: Josh Ferguson
WR
Starter: Ryan Lankford
Backup: Steve Hull
WR
Starter: Spencer Harris
Backup: Justin Hardee
WR
Starter: Martize Barr
Backup: Miles Osei
TE
Starter: Evan Wilson
Backup: Jon Davis
LT
Starter: Simon Cvijanovic
Backup: Dallas Hinkhouse
LG
Starter: Michael Heitz
Backup: Joe Spencer
C
Starter: Alex Hill
Backup: Jake Feldmeyer
RG
Starter: Ted Karras
Backup: Chris O’Connor
RT
Starter: Corey Lewis
Backup: Scott McDowell
Our take: Scheelhaase only needs nine starts to pass Juice Williams for top career honors by a quarterback at Illinois. If he stays healthy, that milestone will come Nov. 9 at Indiana. We’re proceeding under the assumption Darius Millines won’t play against Southern Illinois. He’s currently serving an indefinite suspension, and Beckman hasn’t indicated when that might end. Ferguson missed the spring game with an ankle injury but showed spurts last year of what the Joliet Catholic product could become. The line has experience, with Cvijanovic, Heitz, Karras and Hill making a combined 51 starts between the four. It’s just a matter of meshing that experience with talent, a concept the unit had a difficult time grasping last season.

Defense
DE
Starter: Tim Kynard
Backup: Abe Cajuste
DT
Starter: Jake Howe
Backup: Teko Powell
DT
Starter: Austin Teitsma
Backup: Vontrell Williams
DE
Starter: Darrius Caldwell
Backup: Houston Bates
LB
Starter: Mason Monheim
Backup: T.J. Neal
LB
Starter: Jonathan Brown
Backup: Mike Svetina
STAR
Starter: Eric Finney
Backup: B.J. Bello
CB
Starter: V’Angelo Bentley
Backup: Darius Mosely
CB
Starter: Eaton Spence
Backup: Jevaris Little
Free safety
Starter: Taylor Barton
Backup: Clayton Fejedelem
Strong safety
Starter: Earnest Thomas III
Backup: Ben Mathis
Our take: If healthy, Jonathan Brown is one of the top linebackers in the Big Ten. Mason Monheim was a pleasant surprise last year while Svetina and Bello each finished with 11 tackles in the spring game. The linebackers are easily the strength of the defense. Barton was the surprise star of the spring game with his two interceptions. Having Thomas back will help immensely for an inexperienced secondary as Bentley and Spence try to become lockdown corners in an effort to force more takeaways (Illinois only had seven interceptions last year, with Monheim and Thomas the only defensive returnees who had one). Kynard and Teitsma showed they appear ready for increased roles while getting Caldwell back from his grade issues should prove beneficial.

Special teams
Place-kicker
Starter: Taylor Zalewski
Backup: Ryan Frain
Kickoffs
Starter: Taylor Zalewski
Backup: Ryan Frain
Punter
Starter: Justin DuVernois
Backup: Brad Janitz
Long snapper
Starter: Zach Hirth
Backup: Michael Martin
Kick returners
Starter: V’Angelo Bentley and Ryan Lankford
Backup: Josh Ferguson and Miles Osei
Punt returner
Starter: V’Angelo Bentley
Backup: Miles Osei
Our take: The return game has become a sore issue for Illinois in the recent past. Last year the Illini finished last in the Big Ten in punt return average and 11th in kick return average. The punting game is solid with DuVernois, but the place-kicking and kickoff responsibilities will fall squarely on the shoulders of Taylor Zalewski after Nick Immekus quit this offseason. Ryan Frain could challenge Zalewski this summer and into Camp Rantoul, but expect Zalewski to get the first shot next season. 

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