I think a lot about this stuff. And I talk about it quite a bit, too. And once the discussion about Wes Lunt and new receivers and depth at cornerback dies down, I usually get some form of this question… How's that defensive line going to fare?
My answer is always — oh boy, I dunno.
The unit's heart and soul is Austin Teitsma. Line coach Greg Colby is straight up — Teitsma probably shouldn't be a starter in the Big Ten, Colby once told me and a group of reporters. But his fight and desire and will pushed into the starting 11. He'll remain there for his senior season.
He's also the happiest person, probably of all time, and easily the most entertaining person I've interviewed while covering Illinois sports. People like him, that can be so positive and fun all the time — it's pretty inspiring. How sappy is that to go back and read out loud? It's the truth though.
Pencil Teitsma in. Who's going to be beside him? That's where the talent comes in. Teko Powell has the size and the strength. He's a real contributor in the making. Of course, you can't eat cakes in the making, if you catch my drift. Powell has been injured for most of his career and we're not sure if he's got the bite to back up the bark. He and Jarrod Clements will battle it out for the starting spot opposite Eye of the Teitsma.
I think Clements might eventually be an All Big-Ten type. Will he be that in his sophomore year? I don't think so. But I believe the kid can take a step this season and display why I think his last two years could be something big.
Beyond that, Jake Howe, Robbie Bain and Abe Cajuste is rest of the depth chart. Howe and Bain have great motors and give their best effort, I'll give them that. But there's a pretty wide gap between Teitsma, Powell and Clements and the rest.
I try to be as optimistic as I can, but the defensive line and safety are the most glaring question marks on the defense.
I'm sure I'll get the question many times again between now and September... And boy, I dunno.