40 days to Camp Rantoul

40 days to Camp Rantoul

Counting down the 50 most important Illini

No. 40: T.J. Neal, linebacker

Why he’s important: He didn’t crack the field last year like fellow freshmen linebackers Mason Monheim and Mike Svetina. He should this year after red-shirting the 2012 season. He had a solid spring game, making five tackles, and could find his way into the rotation at linebacker if he continues the work he made this spring through Camp Rantoul. Somewhat of a surprise pickup for Illinois once Tim Beckman arrived at the school, Neal has the chance to develop into another steady linebacker with his good tackling technique and physical build. Will need to work on pass coverage like all young linebackers need to, but has ability to help contain run game at the line of scrimmage.

Fast fact: Neal — one of two Pennsylvania natives on the team — had high-major offers from Florida, Nebraska, Tennessee and others. But the Class of 2012 talent decided on Illinois in mid-January after making his first trip to Champaign-Urbana.

Tomorrow: No. 39