IlliniInquirer.com will break down each position group daily for the next nine days.
Day 1: Quarterbacks
Day 2: Running backs
One of Illinois football's deepest positions has thinned quickly, at least for a month or so.
Mikey Dudek, the sixth receiver in Illini history to top 1,000 yards in a season, is out until at least October after suffering a torn ACL during spring practice. As expected, the sophomore's recovery is ahead of schedule and the staff is more concerned with pulling his reins back to make sure he doesn't push too hard to return.
Justin Hardee, another starter, will likely miss nonconference play after having surgery to repair a broken foot.
If both were healthy, this could be the deepest receiver group in the Big Ten (though Ohio State sure has a lot of talent). The group still has depth but even if Dudek and Hardee return by October, that's about 50-60 receptions of production that'll have to be made up. Good thing Illinois still has some healthy.
Geronimo Allison rocketed into his Illini career. The JUCO transfer used his mix of strenth and length to accrue 21 receptions for 418 yards in his first four Divsion I games. But nagging injuries and a more run-based offense around Reilly O'Toole (who had marginal throwing strength) limited his production over the second half of the season (11 catches for 77 yards during the last six regular-season games). With Lunt's big arm back and an offseason to get healthy, Allison should be able to do more of what he does best: get vertical and out-leap defensive backs. Until Dudek returns, Allison likely will receive the most targets.
Sophomore Malik Turner has the highest upside of any receiver on the Illini roster. He's long (6-3, 205 pounds) and one of the top athletes on the team, just a great find by the Illini staff. But the Springfied native was wide-eyed and inconsistent for most of his freshman season. Once he settles in, the sky seems the limit. He'll get plenty of opportunities to start showing that potential this season.
Cubit hasn't rode many players harder than senior Hardee. There's reasons why. Hardee has blazing speed and good length (6-foot-1), but he's maddeningly inconsistent. Cubit tried to break the wild horse for two years with little results (29 catches for 325 yards the last two seasons). But Cubit couldn't stop singing Hardee's praises this spring, even calling him one of the offense's vocal leaders. He backed it up during the spring game (six catches, 124 yards, one touchdown), which is why the injury is so unfortunate. The talent has always been there for Hardee to be a vertical, speedy threat. He may have only eight games left to produce.
Opportunity also exists in the slot for junior Dionte Taylor and sophomore Marchie Murdock. Neither has elite skills but both have experience in Cubit's system. Taylor, the quicker of the two, seems a more natural fit for what they need. Murdock (6-foot-1) always seems to have moments during fall camp but has yet to consistently break the rotation.
The year away from football appeared to hurt JUCO transfer Tyrin Stone-Davis, who has the measurables but hasn't proven much beyond being a simple vertical threat so far. Walk-on Zach Grant's rapport with Lunt (they were prep teammates at Rochester) always makes him an intriguing depth piece, and he received more reps during the spring.
The staff is very excited about lanky Texas freshman Sam Mays (6-foot-3, 200 pounds). He has the size, stride and athleticism to be an early contributor (he could crack the two-deep) and a future high-impact player. Freshman Desmond Cain was recruited as a defensive back but will get reps at wide receiver to start.
With Dudek injured, expect super-versatile running back Josh Ferguson to line up as a wide receiver more often, as well.