11. Tim Kynard - Man, how stupid am I? I went on and on all fall camp about how, yeah, Kynard had stepped up the leadership-style chirping and had the look of a more mature player after not fully buying in last season… BUT, I wasn't sure he had big-play potential. Then he went out and forced a fumble, hurried the quarterback and had a tackle for loss against SIU. Sure, it was SIU. But nobody else on the defensive line was in the backfield as much as Kynard.
10. Jon Davis - This is the man with the most mysterious knee in Illinois. I'm not making light of the situation -- it's pretty clear that Davis is either A) playing through pain or B) playing with the potential for pain in the future or C) Both. I was always told before taking standardized tests: when in doubt (C)harlie out.
09. V'Angelo Bentley - Big, big, big play potential came to fruition on the 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. First time since I was a junior in college that an Illini returner did that, so give the man his credit. Now, I'm not going to overreact to the touchdown he gave up on defense because he's still young and learning and blah, blah, blah. High highs and low lows won't work here though. Given the situation in the secondary, Bentley needs to go unnoticed as often as possible on defense like Spence.
08. Ryan Lankford - For those of you that have watched the first couple seasons of Mad Men (if you haven't, you should. Twice), did you admire Don Draper for his charm and drive and unquestioned excellence in the marketing realm? Or did you despise him for his infidelity, mysterious background and moody behavior? You don't have to answer that out loud, but his character is clearly up for discussion. With Lankford, did you like his 115 yards receiving and 19.2 average yards per catch? Or did your blood pressure spike when he dropped a touchdown and didn't catch a pass in the second half? He had his good moments, but that negative noise will drive you Mad, Man.
07. Houston Bates - Sticking to what I think Bates could be is why he's so high on the list. Yes, he did have a fumble recovery, a QB hurry and half-a-tackle for loss Saturday. But he wasn't the dominant person on the football field that I expected. Perhaps SIU's quick-passing style kept Bates out of the headlines, something that can't happen if the Illini are going to stop Cinci.
06. Donovonn Young - It's not what Young did Saturday. He didn't go anything Saturday, well, except not hit the few holes that were created for him. It's what he didn't do after the game. Last season Young was quick to frustrate and even quicker to let you know he was feeling that way. He handled himself the right way after gaining six yards on eight carries, a product of poor blocking, the defense trying to take the ground element away and Young's eagerness to bounce it outside before letting the play develop. He didn't let off steam, instead expressing happiness about the win and being ready for Week Two. Dude's learning.
05. Mason Monheim - If this guy was a wrestler, he'd be Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig. That's really the best description I can give you, label-wise. He says the right things, does the right things and makes a ridiculous amount of tackles, too. Mr. Perfect.
04. Earnest Thomas - It's not exactly ideal, you know. Thomas is going to be at the top of the list for tackles in nearly every game. It's great for Thomas and a nod to his role on this team as a premier defender. It's also an indication that there's a lot of downfield tackles that need to be made. While it's not encouraging that those plays needs to be made, you better be happy it's Thomas back there to make sure they do, in fact, get made.
03. Josh Ferguson - Now I'm getting provocative! OK, so this probably isn't a reach. I'm reaching to try to say I'm reaching. It's provocative because Ferguson isn't Young, he's never been this high in the Dirty Dozen and he's never really done anything on the football field. That is, until he led the team in all-purpose yards last weekend, racking up 152 total yards (103 receiving, 49 rushing) while showing himself to be one of the few players this team has that can make something happen by himself.
02. Jonathan Brown - This is what Brown can do when he's healthy. Wait, are we sure he's healthy? The shoulder, the pec, the concussion -- all of it seems to be in the past. The future? Punishment. Lots. Of. Punishing. Tackles.
01. Nathan Scheelhaase - Sometimes when Scheelhaase is zoning like he was Saturday (and when I say sometimes, I mean the only time I've ever personally seen him play like that), I imagine him in a video montage, in a Brad Pitt Ocean's Eleven/Twelve badass suit, walking slow motion with stuff exploding in the background and the song How You Like Me Now (The Heavy's version probably would be best for production purposes, but for the throwbacks we can use Kool Moe Dee, too) blasting throughout. Hey, it was one game and a lame, lame, inferior opponent… But ya gotta take a shot at the haters whenever you can. Scheelhaase is too humble for that though. But I can dream.
For a week at least, Scheelhaase has the throne. Heavy is the head who wears the crown!