Players to Watch in 2013 - No. 3

The list of Illinois players to watch continues with a defensive talent that had a breakout season in 2012.

No. 3 - LB Mason Monheim

Watching Mason Monheim emerge last season was pretty cool.

That's the best way for me to describe it. There wasn't much for Illini fans to be proud of 2012, but Monheim was an immense success in his first season in blue and orange.

I was told early in fall camp that the staff had high expectations for the Orrville, Ohio native, but those initial thoughts were more long-term in scope.

Injuries to Jonathan Brown, Houston Bates and others expedited the process.

Monheim, now 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, was inserted into the starting lineup in mid-September, started making tackles right away and never looked back.

The highlights: an interception against Charleston Southern, 11 tackles versus Penn State, nine solo takedowns in the Indiana game and a career high 15 stops against Minnesota.

Even better than the highlights was the consistency. Monheim had six or more tackles in eight games, a tackling machine that was seemingly getting up off the pile after every play.

Last season, Monheim was good. He was a freshman standing out on a defensive unit that did not do well. At all. What that did is set high expectations moving forward. The defense has to be better, therefore Monheim has to be better.

Long-since accepted doctrine in college sports, players are said to make their biggest jump in development and understanding from their freshman to sophomore seasons.

From what I've seen from Mason after games, during practice and away from the field, I expect him to be a much better player in 2013. He's a determined and smart player with a great work ethic. And he may even have a little motivation chip on his shoulder after not receiving an offer from Ohio State out of high school.

It's an easy prediction to make at the moment, but I'd say the Buckeyes will regret that decision by the time Monheim's college career is done.

Anyway, Brown and Monheim form the best starting unit on defense. Easily. Throw in Mike Svetina, T.J. Neal, Ralph Cooper, Zeph Grimes and Henry Dickinson, coming back from a terrible leg injury, and you've got the deepest and most talented position group on that side of the ball. Easily.

Specifically talking about Monheim, he's got three years left and nothing but a positive path to keep following. He's a piece everyone, players, coaches and fans, can get excited about building around.

No. 4 - QB Nathan Scheelhaase
No. 5 - WR Martize Barr
No. 6 - DB Earnest Thomas
No. 7 - LEO Houston Bates
No. 8 - OL trio Hill, Karras, Cvijanovic
No. 9 - WR Ryan Lankford
No. 10 - TE Jon Davis

Illini Inquirer Top Stories