Fast Five: Breakout Potential

A look at five players who could break out and play contributing roles in 2014.

Geronimo Allison - There's plenty of opportunity at the wide receiver position, and Allison has plenty of talent to exploit the situation. The early enrollee displayed raw potential and instincts early in spring drills and has a strong case as the most talented receiver on the roster. He must gain weight and add strength in the coming months, but this is already developing into a major recruiting steal for the Illini staff.

T.J. Neal - Soon to be entering his third season on campus, Neal appears ready to start and produce. The linebacker job alongside Mason Monheim is open and Neal has a good shot of earning the job and filling Jonathan Brown's shoes.

Dawuane Smoot - Like Neal, Smoot is a guy the staff has been high on since he enrolled. He played as a true freshman in 2013 and split first-team reps at Leo with senior Dejazz Woods. Smoot has speed and quickness off the edge, high-level qualities for a player that weighs over 260.

Austin Schmidt - The right tackle spot opened up when Corey Lewis (finally) exhausted his eligibility. It will be tough to replace the leadership and by-example work ethic of Lewis, but the rising sophomore Schmidt has the potential to be a three-year starter. The staff threw the young kid into the fight as a true freshman, move dictated by a lack of depth. While Schmidt could have spent that time dedicated in the weight room while redshirting, the benefits of actual game experience and practicing to get ready for each Saturday surely will pay off, too.

Caleb Day - In a group of freshman defenders on the field in 2013, Day perhaps was lost in transition. He could have played on either side of the ball at Illinois, but ended up on defense in his first season. He split time at corner and safety, recording nine tackles as classmates Jaylen Dunlap and Darius Mosely saw more run in the secondary. Day was moved to corner full-time in spring drills and appeared comfortable while running with the second team. There's a log jam at corner, but Day stands as good chance to see the field and push for the nickel and dime spots.


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