Position Probe: Defensive End

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

There's two ways to look at potential.

It means something really good could happen. Or that kind of nothing has happened so far. Potential is provocative. Potential is… aggravating.

That's how I felt about the defensive end position all spring long. Kenny Nelson has a long frame and is 6-6 — but he's just entering his junior season and I'm still not sure what the finished version of Kenny Nelson can be.

Paul James had the most impressive offer list of any recruit coach Tim Beckman has landed. He missed all of last season and the first half of spring due to academics.

Joe Fotu is 6-3 and 275 pounds. Everybody loves him. Literally. He's like the most popular personality among his d-line mates after making a great impression in January. It's just that he's never played a down in the Big Ten.

Jihad Ward was the highest rated signee in the 2014 class. But he's not officially a member of the team yet and hasn't been through so much as a practice.

So… there's plenty of reason to hope and believe this unit will run quarterbacks ragged, stuff the run and otherwise meet assignments to help the rest of the defense turn in better performances.

We just have to wait a really, really long time before we're sure if it will actually happen.

I think James, especially, can be a force and Ward should make an early impact, too. Fotu is fun to project and Nelson should at least be solid.

I can say all that. I just don't know if it will come true.

That's how it is with potential. It's hurry up and (think about it for a ridiculous amount of time) before you can see if it comes to fruition.

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