Illinois coach Paul Petrino has taken player turnover in stride as he begins his second year in charge of receivers. While he is working with a much younger group this spring, he is convinced they have great potential.
"At receiver, you lose some of those receivers, but you've got a lot of guys back that played a bunch. Actually, I think we'll be real fast out there, and explosive. I look forward to us being real good at that position this year.
"You've got A.J. Jenkins back, who led us in catches. You've got Fred Sykes, who's got all kinds of experience and is working real hard. And the three freshmen that played a ton, Ryan Lankford, Darius Millines and Spencer Harris.
"That's five guys we feel real good about. And then you've got to bring Anthony Williams and Jake Kumerow around for depth. Those are two kids that redshirted who've got talent. So overall, I'm really excited. I expect we will be a lot better at receiver this year that we were last year."
Lankford is the fastest receiver and likely the fastest Illini squad member. Despite his slender physique, he played last season without an injury.
"Yeah, he did. He's just a tough kid that plays with great effort."
Harris isn't as fast as some of the others, but he makes up for it in other ways.
"He's got real soft hands. I think as he gets bigger and faster, he's got a chance to have a real good career here. He's a real good route runner. He made some big plays for us this year, and we were getting him in there more."
Freshman Anthony Williams redshirted last year. At 6'-4", he has an advantage as a receiver. But he lacked strength and weight last fall. Is he getting stronger?
"He is, and he's working hard. He's got great hands, and he can really go up and make a catch when he's covered."
Kumerow is a 6'-5" walkon who is battling for playing time.
"I think he's got a chance to be a good player here. He's big, he's long, he can run well."
Petrino's discussion did not include redshirt freshman Fritz Rock, who recently moved to receiver. Only two of his top eight have been here longer than one year, so much work remains.
However, they all have been working on timing with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase over the winter, so their learning curve is not as big a concern as some might imagine. Plus, Petrino says Scheelhaase is improving.
"I think as Nathan improves, that whole crew will have a chance to be a lot better playmakers in the passing game this year than they were last year."
In part three, Petrino describes the incoming receivers who signed with the Illini in February.