Note* I'm not including the Leo position here…
First word that comes to mind: Unproven
Second word that comes to mind: Options
Third word that comes to mind: Creative?
How I see the pecking order: (and yes, there are three different positions on the line. This isn't a depth chart. It's my somewhat educated opinion on who's the best and who can make the most plays).
Kenny Nelson/Robbie Bain/Abe Cajuste
Yeah, this could sound negative. I'm going to try to be as non-negative as possible, but we have to be realistic here.
Like safety, this unit has a solid upperclassmen in Tim Kynard that, while I don't feel like he's a headliner type, is a player that others can look to and learn and take direction from. I trust Kynard to hold up his end of the bargain, make the plays he's supposed to while not necessarily standing out.
As for the rest, it's literally an unknown pile of players that could step up and have a good season or could get pushed around and end up being the reason why the defense has trouble.
Off the field, I think Teitsma is one of the better individuals on the team. He's funny. He's comedian funny. And he doesn't take himself seriously. Now, that has nothing to do with football, and I don't have anything to go on in terms of projecting what he can do on the field.
Howe has the size and his attitude is of the, 'I don't care if you don't know my name or that I've yet to play much' variety. But like Teitsma, I have nothing to go on other than he won a starting job in spring and August.
So, that's the starting group. Beyond that, Powell is the guy I'm leaning toward for making moves once the season starts. Again, he's young and unproven, but he's 6-foot-3, 295 pounds and has been given good reviews from those I talk to.
Elsewhere, Nelson has a long frame, Bain has tremendous work ethic, Cajuste can play multiple position and Clements and Douglas are still finding their way.
None have ever made a tackle in the Big Ten.
Adding it all up, I went with creative? as my third word because perhaps defensive coordinator Tim Banks and DL coach Greg Colby will mix and match and stunt and blitz and do everything imaginable to try to close the gap between the lack of experience and the need for production.
Some of the most tasty ice cream creations begin with vanilla: Kynard
On the floor, how high is the ceiling?: Teitsma, Howe
Yours for the taking: Powell
Hard work pays off: Bain
Find your niche: Cajuste
Show it: Nelson, Clements, Douglas
Final thought: Stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback are crucial in football these days. That might sound like saying driving your car without hitting anything is important -- duh! But it's true, the defensive line can set the tone by forcing second and longs by limiting the run and pressuring the passer has clear advantages. With this Illinois unit, I'm not overly negative. It's just that I can't be positive, not until I see more of what's going on. Kynard has to keep a good attitude and has to show up. He's a senior, so he knows the deal. The others have to play up to their capabilities, however limited or unlimited that may be.