Position Probe: Star

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

The blueprint for success at Star in the current Illini scheme is known.

Ashante Williams had 78 tackles, 11 passes defended/breakups, two fumble recoveries, 1.5 quarterback takedowns and an interception. So while the defense was terrible, Williams was stellar.

Can Earnest Thomas do a decent Williams impression? He thinks so, and the staff must too, moving Thomas from safety to Star the week prior to spring drills. Thomas loves the position for the very reasons Williams was so great at it — it's based on instincts and is closer to the line of scrimmage. It's more physical than safety. It's more do than think, something Thomas says should allow him play more loosely than he did while reading the entire field and directing others from his safety spot.

The move appears to be money, as Thomas recorded 69 tackles in '12 and 101 last season. That's some serious production, although since he was playing safety, it probably indicates there were a lot of tackles being made a long way from the point of origin (not in Illinois' favor).

With Thomas closer to the line, his tackling ability should help in the run game and his safety experience should help him when matched up with tight ends or running backs against the pass.

Beyond Thomas, Eric Finney and Zeph Grimes form a decent one-two punch of depth. Finney has meaningful experience after playing some last season and Grimes is pure heart and effort, intercepting a pass in the spring game after moving from linebacker during the spring.

This position is in much better shape than it was last September, when Finney was sidelined with an injury and linebacker Mike Svetina was the only realistic option. Now with Thomas as the starter, perhaps the name of the spot will be as appropriate as it was when Williams was roaming the field.


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