Vic Koenning doesn't like to go out on a limb with rookies until he has seen them in action at the college level. But the Illinois defensive coordinator is hopeful he is adding quality depth to all positions this fall.
"You never know, and when you guess one way it's always the other way. I think the group as a whole is really solid. There wasn't too many reaches."
Defensive line coach Keith Gilbert elaborated on his line recruits in an earlier interview. Koenning agrees there is some good talent on the way.
"I think the defensive line guys have a ton of promise."
Perhaps the strength of that group is defensive tackles Clint Tucker, Chris Jones and Willie Beavers, especially after they spend quality time in the Strength and Conditioning program with Coach Lou Hernandez.
"Those are three guys we've got to get Lou on and get toughened up. But they can roll their hips, and they're explosive."
Like outside linebackers coach Ron West, Koenning is extremely optimistic about Darrius Caldwell.
"Darrius Caldwell should be a heck of a player at the Bandit position. I think that position suits him extremely well."
Koenning, who now also coaches inside linebackers, recruited Memphis product Henry Dickinson personally. A relative unknown going into his senior season, he exploded on the scene, proving Koenning's evaluation talents.
There was early talk of Dickenson playing Bandit, and he has the height and ranginess for the role. But Koenning has other plans for him.
"He asked about being a Bandit, and I said, 'Nope, inside.' He's gonna be a field general. We've got to have some field generals somewhere.
"I said, 'That's what you're gonna be. You get in the weight room and work hard. You'll understand the whole package, and you're gonna be able to be exactly where we need to be.'"
Dickenson has both the athleticism and the smarts for middle linebacker.
"We'll be able to get to some formation blitzes. We'll be able to do some things we maybe haven't been able to do. We want to blitz the side of the fullback, or we want to blitz the side of the offset back. We hadn't been able to do some of that stuff because of the dialogue processes it takes to get that done.
"An experienced defense can do that, and if you have a bunch of intelligent guys who can understand and assimilate real quick. He's a guy who can help us be able to do some stuff like that when we want to."
Koenning can't help but provide a glowing description of his prize recruit.
"He's a tall, rangy joker. He can cover some ground. He's not scared, he's a pretty good blitzer. He's got a lot of positives.",/P>
Depth in the secondary was basically nonexistent in 2010. Koenning hopes rookie safeties Zeph Grimes, Dondi Kirby and Nick North plus corners Eaton Spence and Valdon Cooper can contribute early in their careers.
"The group of dbs have all got something that makes them special, whether it's range or explosiveness or flexibility. One of them's really got some things that makes him special.
"There may not be any of them that are automatic starters. Hopefully there is. But they have things that are better than most at their positions.
"The thing that seems to be the best about all of them is they're hungry. They want to be here. We didn't have a bunch of guys decommitting here and recommitting there, going back and forth and all that mess. It shows guys are committed."
The 6'-3" Kirby is a four-star recruit according to Scout. He is capable of playing both corner and safety. Are the Illini planning to try him at safety?
"I think that's the best place for him. We'll probably put him at Cat Safety and just let him learn the position. If you can learn that, you can learn free safety, you can learn a lot of stuff.
"It's not that complicated, but you'd like to have a rangy guy. He's the one guy we have at safety that's got really good length. At that position, if you've got a taller guy that can see through the backfield, see over the linemen and read the quarterback, read flow, it helps.
"A shorter guy needs more of an edge where they can see things. Those are things not everybody thinks about when you start working through stuff. I think we got some guys who can fill in."
Koenning and the rest of the Illini coaching staff recruit football players and don't care about star rankings from different recruiting websites. They feel they are bringing in some excellent players.
"It isn't like the Henry Dickinson's of the world didn't have schools coming in on him. Even on the offensive side. I talked to Reilly O'Toole's coach. He had a Big 10 school that had a coaching change come in and make a late push for him, but he hung in there. Those are the type of kids that we signed.
"I'll be disappointed if the guys in this class aren't every bit as good as the guys in the last class. I think it will prove to be a pretty salty bunch, and we're not disappointed in any of them."