16 days to Camp Rantoul

Counting down the 50 most important Illini

No. 16: Houston Bates, Leo

Why he's important: He'll start. In a hybrid defensive end/linebacker role. Who knows if the junior would if Darrius Caldwell was still on the team. Tim Beckman dismissed Caldwell, a promising talent from Georgia, from the team this spring. No specific reason was given. Bates had a solid spring, and Beckman indicated he would probably have beaten out Caldwell for the starting spot regardless. Bates made three tackles during the spring game. He'll need to produce more than that this season given his veteran presence. He missed two games last year because of injury and finished with 18 tackles, five less than what he had during his 2011 season, where he was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week after his performance against Arkansas State in the season opener. Fans got a glimpse of what Bates' potential could be during that game against a Hugh Freeze-led squad. Now, they just want to see it continue throughout an entire season.

Fast fact: The junior is one of two Louisiana natives on the roster. Bates is from Covington, La., and center Alex HIll is from Slidell.

Tomorrow: No. 15

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