CHAMPAIGN — The list of unavailable Illinois football players from the loss to Eastern Michigan was a long one. The Illini defense took the most hits — both in the number of players out and from what turned out to be a potent Eagles’ offense.
All three levels of the defense were affected. The defensive line was missing Jamal Woods and Kenyon Jackson for injuries and Lere Oladipo because of a suspension. Linebacker Khalan Tolson was out, too. So were safeties Tony Adams and Stanley Green.
That doesn’t even include cornerback Marquez Beason out for the season and defensive end Isaiah Gay, who went down with an injury against Eastern Michigan.
Illinois coach Lovie Smith didn’t provide much clarity at all for those players’ condition ahead of Saturday’s Big Ten opener against Nebraska save for Oladipo. He’s still out.
“Lere Oladipo is still suspended from the team indefinitely,” Smith said of the redshirt sophomore defensive tackle. The Huntley native was suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
The rest of the injured Illini?
“Hopefully we’ll get a few guy back injury wise this week,” Smith said. “A few we really missed this past week — especially on the defensive side of the football. ...We don’t have guys that have season-ending injuries or anything like that. We’ll assume and we’re hoping we’ll have most of our guys back this week. We’ll be able to tell you a little more (Tuesday).”
The injuries to Adams and Green did create one noticeable change to the Illinois defense. Even with Sydney Brown returning from the hamstring injury that cost him almost all of training camp and the first two games of the season, Delano Ware shifted from linebacker to safety. That shift, of course, came after Ware was moved to linebacker this spring and repped at that position since.
Ware had five tackles and one forced fumble in his new old role against Eastern Michigan.
“Delano Ware was one of the guys defensively who really played well,” Smith said. “He made about three big plays. He took advantage of the opportunities that he had. Normally we just don’t want to move a guy for one week. I guess we’d do that if we had to. We’ll kind of see how that goes. Delano gives us flexibility for sure.”
The Illinois defensive front was able to adapt without four regular rotation players against Eastern Michigan. Tymir Oliver, Calvin Avery and Deon Pate got more time at defensive tackle with Woods, Oladipo and Jackson out. Gay’s injury could open the door for guys like Marc Mondesir or some of the Illini freshmen defensive ends.
“We have enough guys at that position,” Smith said. “We’d like to play as many as possible. What it means is that maybe some those guys will get an opportuntiy for a few more reps. Be ready. Your number could be called soon.”