You know what's awesome for the short term? Having three seniors and a redshirt junior man four of the five OL spots.
You know what's not awesome for the long term? Having three seniors and a redshirt junior man four of the five OL spots.
Live it up Illinois fans and OL aficionados, 2014 is your time and your season.
Simon Cvijanovic, Alex Hill, Michael Heitz and Ted Karras give Illinois an experienced look with multiple different lineup combinations due to versatility. The group could be joined by Austin Schmidt, Joe Spencer or somebody else, depending on what coach A.J. Ricker decides is the best collection of five.
I don't know how good the unit can or will be, but that doesn't sound so bad.
There's a few common excuses or explanations used if an offensive line doesn't do well. Inexperience, youth and injuries essentially comprise the entire list as the only ways to explain subpar performances away. Two of those three don't line up with Illinois this year and injuries are out of anybody's control.
Recruiting is. So what happens after three of these dudes leave? Outside of Karras, you could probably draw names out of a hat and have a good shot at getting right. That's why offensive line is the top priority in this cycle (if you don't accept ‘entire defense' as the answer. Hey, you make the rules).
Let's take a look at OL recruiting during the Beckman Era…
2012: Robbie Bain, Joseph Spencer
Hinkhouse is now a tight end, Bain on the defensive line. They're out. As for the rest, I think Allegretti and Schmidt will be multi-year starters. Spencer is steadily earning Ricker's trust. And DiLauro has potential, but he clearly needs more time. The rest? Meh.
I'm not sounding some alarm that doesn't exist over the thought of a line that includes Schmidt, Karras, Allegretti, Spencer and some other person to be determined later. That's not a terrible group, not at this point nearly 18 months away. But there's not enough numbers and not enough talent to add to that starting block.
That's why Illinois has to nail the offensive line portion of the 2015 haul. The staff is off to a great start. Gabe Megginson committed in April. He's easily the highest-ranked lineman of the Beckman Era, and will be the first four-star OL to sign (should Megginson follow through and do that) since Andrew Carter in 2009.
That's a big deal. Let's not go crazy and project Megginson to come in as a true freshman and start at left tackle and keep Wes Lunt upright and open holes for Josh Ferguson and leave Illinois decorated and be drafted in the first round by an NFL team.
It's not fair to him to go overboard, but I think his 6-6, 290-pound self has mad potential.
It's a good start, though it's not enough. I think at least three or four more offensive lineman need to join Megginson in this class. And it might be a good idea (one the staff is already looking into) to pull a JUCO kid or two, just to get some older, perhaps more ready bodies into the mix.
Looking in-state, Quinn Oseland is a near must-get. It helps having Megginson on board, as the two are buddies, and Illinois is clearly in a good spot to land a second tackle prospect from the central part of the state.
That would be a big deal.
From there, the picture isn't as clear. Losing a guy like Plainfield North's Cody Conway (committed to Syracuse a few weeks ago) hurts, but it isn't the end of the world. It's missing on guys like that, though, that can end up hurting you down the road.
Recruiting offensive linemen is a challenge. It's hard to evaluate the big fellas, hard to know exactly what you're getting. You've got to find guys with the right mentality and work ethtic, as well as bodies that can continue to add weight and develop the necessary strength for winning in the trenches. That's not easy, and it's why o-line is the one area where I slightly deviate from my give-me-the-most-stars-possible philosophy. A two-star guy like Ted Karras can be a four-year starter in the Big Ten, while I'm sure we could all point to plenty of higher-rated guys over the years that didn't pan out.
With that in mind, the staff is still offering linemen in this class. Zeke Martin and Mirko Jurkovic are the most recent to join the list of candidates. There's over 50 lineman with an Illini offer, but the best bets could be Trey Derouen, Noah Listermann and Adam Solomon. All are from out-of-state, so the staff would get major props for winning that group over to go along with Megginson and perhaps Oseland.
If that does indeed happen, the long term outlook will resemble the short plan. When it comes to the offensive line, all you want is to be comfortable -- for both the long and short haul.