Position Probe: Offensive Tackle

An in-depth take, position by position, as the Illini transition from spring drills to summer workouts.

For whoever ends up winning the starting quarterback competition (yeah, we know), the blind side won't be a worry.

The Illini have the luxury of multi-year starter Simon Cvijanovic returning for his senior season. He's shown to be productive in the past and proved capable while playing hurt at the tail-end of last year. In short, he's good, tough and dependable.

There's no reason to doubt Cvijanovic will be in the running for All Big-Ten honors. The offense should be as or more explosive than last year and could showcase two premier playmakers in Wes Lunt and Josh Ferguson.

If that holds true, Cvijanovic will get his due.

Meanwhile, the other tackle spot should be handled by sophomore Austin Schmidt. There were pros and cons when the Ohio native played as a true freshman in 2013 instead of redshirting. Sure, it would have been nice for him to take on an aggressive weight training regimen to add size and strength to get ready for big boy football. But the experience gained while shuffling in and out with Corey Lewis, limited as Schmidt's snaps may have been, had to be plenty beneficial as well.

Schmidt started spring drills as the starter, but line coach A.J. Ricker mixed the starting group up and changed Michael Heitz from left guard to right tackle at times to make sure Schmidt didn't get comfortable or content. Ricker wanted Schmidt to continue earning his way into the starting group and to continue to push to get better.

In terms of depth, Heitz is the swing guy. Depending on who else shines at other spots, Heitz would likely be the back-up for both Cvijanovic and Schmidt if needed. Depth would get a boost if reserves Patrick Flavin and Scott McDowell continue to progress. For now, though, good health and Heitz will be good for the tackle spots.


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