Bello Brings Speed to Linebacker Spot

B.J. Bello ended up an inside linebacker after an offseason debate regarding his best look.

CHAMPAIGN — The Illini defensive staff surely held an offseason debate or two about B.J. Bello's future.

Al Seamonson coached him as a ‘Star' last season and definitely wanted to keep him. The inside linebacker position, headed by Mike Ward, needed some depth and more speed.

Ward won out and the 6-3, 220-pound redshirt sophomore was on the move. All the while, he didn't make an argument for one side or the other.

"No, I didn't really have a preference," Bello said. "I just wanted to do anything I could to get on the field."

Bello spent time with the No. 1 defense last fall after Eric Finney suffered a knee injury. A nagging groin injury though cost Bello reps and practice time, as Mike Svetina asserted himself as the starter for most of the season. Bello appeared in only four games, assisting on four tackles.

With Finney healthy and safety Earnest Thomas moving to Star, Bello became a player with options in the eyes of coordinator Tim Banks this offseason.

"We wanted to improve our team speed overall," Banks said. "We really think putting him inside will help our linebackers in foot speed because he's obviously one of the faster guys we have."

The move hasn't been that much of adjustment, according to Bello. He mans the weak-side linebacker spot, called Will, and has similar assignments from his time at Star.

"Being in the box is a little different, the run game," he said. "Beside that, it's not too much difference.

"Coach Ward has been doing a good job trying to catch me up, and I've been putting in extra hours trying to get the playbook as much as I can."

The biggest thing going in Bello's favor is he's different. Currently working with the No. 2 defense, no other inside linebacker runs as fast as he does or has his body type. With an on-going competition to replace Jonathan Brown, being unique is an advantage.

"He's not quite as thick as the other guys," Banks said. "He's 220 right now, but he's extremely fast. He's learning the position but we feel once he masters it his future is bright inside for sure."

Showing potential at linebacker for now, could that be his permanent home?

"Nothing is in stone," Banks said. "We'll evaluate everything once we're done with spring, but right now we're going to continue moving forward with him inside and we'll see how it goes."

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