Position Probe: Leo

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

Those looking for a Fast Pass to the front of the line could find happiness at Leo this spring.

Only Dawuane Smoot and Dejazz Woods were left at the position after Houston Bates surprisingly left the program in the offseason.

Fortunately, those two guys had something to prove and the right mindset to go about doing so.

Smoot is just a sophomore, but he has the potential to be the disruptive pass-rusher the defense so severely needed last season. He got the green light in the dining room and is now over 250 pounds. His speed and quickness is why his ceiling is projected so high and the weight gain reportedly didn't hurt those aspects of his game (like it apparently did to Bates. Smoot is 6-3, with his lengthy, broad frame better suited for the added mass).

Woods meanwhile is a soft-spoken senior, a player who has only one year left to create his legacy. If Smoot is spectacular, Woods is solid, always an important quality when a position lacks depth.

Also, if you're looking for a feel good story, Henry Dickinson was cleared for full go and moved to Leo near the end of spring. If you'll remember, Dickinson was a rising impact player before he suffered a leg injury fall camp of 2012. Coach Beckman once told me it was the worst injury he'd witnessed in person. It took painful rehab and there were numerous setbacks (nerve damage, hamstring issues), but Dickinson says he's as close to 100 percent as he's ever going to be. It's a tale of perseverance and tough spirt — a definite person to get behind and root for.

On the way: junior college prospect Carroll Phillips will arrive in June. He's 6-4 and already over 240 pounds, with three years to play three. That kind of frame is exactly what this position calls for, so that's a plus. It's hard to say much else without seeing the kid live in action, but his presence will at a minimum help add depth and diversify the spot.

In summary, Leo might not be flush with numbers, but Smoot could end up being a Top Three defensive player next season, enough to give hope that quarterbacks will be less comfortable in 2014.

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