Keith Gilmore likes the potential of the Illinois defensive line recruits. Tackles Clint Tucker (6'-2", 285), Willie Beavers (6'-5", 310) and Chris Jones (6'-5", 305) plus ends Kenny Nelson (6'-6", 245) and Chris O'Connor (6'-5", 240) could all vie for playing time at a young age. Gilmore comments on his prize rookies.
"Number one, there's some big bodies in that group. We've got some range to those guys. A couple of them will be redshirt guys just based on physical, being strong enough. I think all of them will be good players. They all kind of bring something different to the table."
Gilmore is adding three defensive tackles to the mix, and all should provide excellent depth if not playing time in 2011.
"I'm excited about Willie Beavers. Willie Beavers is a guy that played primarily offensive tackle, but I think he runs well, he's flexible to be a big kid. I think that he will be a guy that will surprise people as things progress. I'm excited about him being he's only played a year on the defensive side of the football.
"Those three guys at the tackle spots, the first two would probably be Clint and Chris because they're stronger and more physical, but Willie won't be far behind. I think he brings a little bit different element to the position."
Most defensive tackles are shorter as it is easier for them to keep offensive linemen from getting under their pads to hold them. Gilmore was asked if Beavers and Jones will have problems due to their height.
"That's my job. If they come in here willing and want to learn and get better, it's my job to coach them and get them to play with pad level and some technique. We have to project young linemen, especially when they don't come from great programs. People let them get away with just being big and bully people.
"Now you're big, but you've got to play with some technique. I pride myself on getting those guys to do the right things and play the way they should play. I'm excited about them."
A couple of the tackles have grade issues they must resolve for eligibility this fall.
"I think they'll be okay," Gilmore says. "We may have to bring one in later or something, but you want those type of guys.
"If you can get a nucleus of defensive linemen along that level, I think you've got a chance. Especially if we can get away with playing one of them and then redshirting the other two. That's the way you really get some stability and some depth in your program."
Gilmore is also high on his defensive ends.
"Two big kids. Both 6'-4" to 6'-5". They're at 230-235-240 range right now. When you get a kid that big with that much range, they can be 265-270 and guys that can still run and give you some stuff."
Nelson was unknown until his senior year, but Gilmore is excited about his potential.
"The thing I like about Kenny Nelson, he's just beginning as well. But he's got great leverage, he's got long arms. He can run to be that size. I think he'll be fine."
Nelson has raw potential, while O'Connor has benefitted from better coaching.
"Chris O'Connor is more of a technique kid. He comes from a little bit better coaching in the front. I think he understands some of the blocking schemes and the things that are happening to him a little bit better than the Nelson kid. They both have great upside, and I'm excited about having those types of bodies to develop."
Gilmore says the five represent a foundation upon which quality defensive fronts can be built.
"A couple years from now, you could look across the front, and you run out there with 4-5 guys who are 6'-4" to 6'-5" to play football. You have a chance to have a legitimate Big 10 front."
Gilmore feels Illini recruiting is on the upswing. Last year at this time, opposing coaches were scaring prospects by telling them Illinois would be firing its coaching staff. But after a winning season and Texas Bowl victory over Baylor, scare tactics won't work anymore.
"No question. It's upbeat. People are feeling good about us. The staff is solid, and we did some good things. People see not only did we have a winning season and win a bowl game, but we've got guys that are rated high in the NFL draft. That's big to kids. So we've got a few things working in our favor.
"We went up statistically, we broke school records. The defense made a lot of improvement. It's a good situation right now. I think the fact we're getting in on some guys and offering them early is gonna help."