Top 10 to Watch in 2013

The list of Illini players to watch rolls on with a trio of linemen representing the No. 8 slot.

No. 8 - OL Ted Karras, Alex Hill, Simon Cvijanovic

Don't hold it against me, but I'll readily admit I'm copping out by placing three players at No. 8.

It's a jumble -- but that's how I've felt about the offensive line since I arrived in Illinois. Last season, the unit didn't fare too well. By now you already know why, as you do with most of the other areas of the team that struggled; injuries and a lack of continuity on the offensive side as a whole hurt the end result.

By season's end, there had been four different starting lineup combinations with seven different linemen making starts.

Graham Pocic and Hugh Thornton are now gone from that tangle. Both were versatile and experienced, so the loss will surely hurt.

Now to be honest with you, I'm not sure how things will shake out in fall camp. That's why I've selected three different players.

I'll start with Karras. Now a sophomore, the Illini legacy seems poised to take a step up in numerous areas in 2013. He'll man one of the guard positions and drew praise in spring for his gains in both strength and technique.

He started every game last season, so he's been in the fight and knows what to expect. On another note, by the end of 2012, Karras began dealing with the media much better and seemed more comfortable fielding questions.

I, obviously, can't be in the locker room, but I imagine that type of confidence has developed in other areas as well, such as leadership, talking with other players and communicating with the staff.

That's what this unit needs -- a leader to look to. Perhaps Karras will make a push to become a central figure.

Cvijanovic is next because he'll likely man the always important left tackle slot. Depending on how Corey Lewis (more on him later) fares, the junior could play on the right side, but either way, he'll factor in.

Like Karras, the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder received plenty of experience last season, suffering through many bad times while also taking part in a few bright outliers (301 total yards, 149 rushing yards against Wisconsin). The offensive staff needs Cvijanovic to take his game to a new level and become a dependable piece on the line to build around. He has two years left to play, so along with Karras being around for three more seasons, there's a good chance to put something together.

Lastly, I've tabbed Alex Hill as a player to watch. Another junior, Hill seemed to get the most reps in spring at center, a position we all know is crucial for success. By no means has Hill solidified himself at the spot, but he has both a good build and the intelligence to make reads and calls at the line of scrimmage.

In my opinion, it would be a drastic step in the right direction if Hill, Karras and Cvijanovic entrench themselves in the starting lineup early in fall camp. Each guy has multiple years left to play and has playing experience in the past, setting up a good year for all three to help get the offense moving again.

Note - I did not include Corey Lewis here, but he's still certainly a player to watch. The sixth-year senior stands a good shot of starting or contributing major time, most likely at right tackle. I'm happy for Lewis -- he's been through so much and nobody deserves to play more than him. I'm also nervous for him too, though, because he's been hurt so many times in the past. Here's to him staying healthy and maintaining his availability throughout the year. That would be both a boost to Illinois and blessing for him personally.


No. 9 Ryan Lankford
No. 10 Jon Davis

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