18 days to Camp Rantoul
Counting down the 50 most important Illini.
No. 18: Dawuane Smoot, LEO
Why he’s important: The sophomore from Groveport, Ohio, blends the size, strength and speed Illinois is wanting out of the hybrid defensive end/linebacker position Smoot occupies. An elbow injury hindered him in the latter half of spring practices and forced him to sit out the spring game. So Illinois fans couldn’t see the progress Smoot has made, at least in the eyes of the Illinois coaches. He’s a player Illinois probably wishes it redshirted last season by the time the 2015 or 2016 season rolls around. But Tim Beckman felt Smoot’s attributes could help Illinois right away, hence why he accumulated eight tackles, including a sack, in his true freshman season last fall. He’ll need to provide a consistency off the edge this season if he hopes to play in all 12 regular season games compared to only seven he saw action in last year. He has added 40 pounds to his frame since last summer, but hasn’t lost the quickness necessary to make a difference at LEO. It’s a lot to ask for a player only a season removed from playing high school football to develop into a pass-rushing threat, but that’s what Illinois is expecting out of Smoot this fall.
Fast fact: Smoot, who teammates and coaches call D.J., picked Illinois ahead of offers from Ball State, Eastern Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Toledo and Western Michigan in late June 2012.
Last year's ranking: N/A
Tomorrow: No. 17
No. 19: Kenny Nelson