Playing a position where there isn't much set in stone, Ryan Lankford's key advantage is at least one thing for certain.
He's really fast. Actually, he's probably the fastest player on the Illinois team, at least in terms of the straight line, ready, set, go-kind of speed.
While Lankford lacks the size (listed at 6-foot, 175-pounds) to be an all-out go-to wideout, his speed gives him something that, for the most part, the Illini offense doesn't have -- big play ability.
Last year, his biggest play came in the season opener on his first touch of the season. Lankford hauled in a 64-yard touchdown reception, a play where he streaked down the middle of the field untouched for the score.
In that moment, the Jacksonville, Fla., native looked like a game changer, an instant form of yards after the catch for an offense that figured to struggle to maintain drives.
Unfortunately, that kind of excitement didn't happen very often. To go with his 64-yarder, Lankford had catches of 45, 24, 23 and 22 yards. His best game came against Penn State, where he had 104 yards on seven catches.
But he also failed to catch more than three passes in seven games and missed the Northwestern loss due to injury.
In sum, Lankford is a weapon, just an inconsistent one. His speed provides the potential for a quick score. His size, though, leaves him vulnerable, as seen when Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby frequently roughed him up at the line of scrimmage, relegating him to two catches for 14 yards.
This season Lankford may have more opportunities to get loose. If junior college transfer Martize Barr lives up to the hype generated in spring drills and/or one or two of Steve Hull, Miles Osei, Justin Hardee, Spencer Harris, etc., prove capable of helping out, maybe defenses won't be able to take Lankford out of the game plan.
Those, of course, are big ifs. And when big ifs are involved, speed can bail you out. The Illini will look for Lankford to make more chunk-yardage plays in 2013.
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