Ready to Roar

Houston Bates is closer to the line-of-scrimmage in his new role at the Leo position, a spot he says is made for him.

CHAMPAIGN – In the Illinois 2013 football media guide, Houston Bates is listed at 6-foot-3 240 pounds.

That's up 10 pounds from last season, gains made to account for his switch from linebacker to Leo, a defensive end-outside ‘backer hybrid.

The extra weight was necessary – but the number is incorrect. Bates didn't gain 10 pounds. He put on 25 and now weighs 255. All the better for the junior, who will be going up against offensive tackles in pursuit of the passer quite often this season.

"I just ate," he said. "Ate, slept and worked out. There's no other way to do it."

Eating is the first thing Bates thought about when he was informed of his position move. That and how ecstatic he was to be closer to the line-of-scrimmage.

"I love it. It takes me back to my high school days," he said. "I played defensive end in high school, so I like having my hand in the ground and being in the trenches."

After struggling through last season with an ankle injury, Bates surged in the spring. The days on the line in high school and two years spent at linebacker at Illinois prepared for him for the balance of rushing the passer and dropping into coverage. His skill-set and football smarts set him up for success, too.

"I think first and foremost his football intelligence," coach Tim Beckman said when asked what made Bates the ideal Leo. "He does a great job of understanding fits, understanding where his leverage must be and then his first two steps are quick. It's great to see him get the opportunity at the Leo position, which gives him more chances to rush the passer than he did last year as a linebacker."

The position name is new to the Illinois scheme and Bates is new to the position. And the coach leading the Leos, Al Seamonson, is new, too.

"He's a great coach, probably one of the best since I've been here," Bates said. "He's very thorough in his coaching, very detailed. He's a great coach. We have very good chemistry."

Exactly what is the balance between getting after the quarterback and dropping into coverage?

"It's pretty balanced I would say because in certain situations I'm dropping to the flats, but in most situations if it's our base formation I'm pass rushing," Bates answered. "I'm working with the tackle."

Ah yes, those big offensive tackles. That's where those extra 15 pounds Bates wasn't credited for will come in handy. And as for those battles, Bates is happy to be in the position he's in.

"I like it a lot better than linebacker. It wasn't too bad of a transition," he said.

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