IlliniInquirer.com will break down each position group daily for the next nine days.
Day 1: Quarterbacks
Day 2: Running backs
Day 3: Wide receivers
Often an overlooked position, tight end will be the Illinois football's greenest position. Matt LaCosse and Jon Davis had been stalwarts at the position the last two seasons, LaCosse as the receiving threat and Davis as the versatile H-Back. With their departures, the Illini brought in three newcomers.
The two returners with Big Ten experience are junior Tyler White and senior Tim Clary. Most of White's college experience (he has two career catches for 17 yards and a touchdown) is on special teams. But the big guy (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) is the best blocker of the group – by far. That'll get him plenty of time lined up with an unproven offensive line. He's shown bricky hands to this point, but White has a great frame as a red-zone target. Clary (6-foot-2, 245) will play a lot on special teams and will get reps at the H-back spot as a blocker and check-down target.
Some services ranked Andrew Davis as one of the top, if not THE top, junior college tight end in the country. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound junior looks like a basketball player on the field and has NFL potential just based on his length and receiving skills. He's a very willing blocker, but he doesn't yet have the strength to be a reliable one (though he bulked up considerably during winter and spring workouts). He's at least a red-zone threat with the potential to be a great check-down and down-the-seam target. The big question: how does he deal with the physicality of the Big Ten? Expect some bumps along the way, but there's a good ceiling here.
Ainslie Johnson was brought in to play the Jon Davis role even he isn't quite the athlete. The Illini staff had Johnson (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) gain weight when he arrived on campus this spring, but it took away some of his athleticism. As he lost weight later in the spring, he seemed to play better. He'll be used primarily as an out-of-the-backfield blocker and receiver.
Freshman Caleb Reams (6-foot-3, 240 pounds) is a redshirt candidate and, unless Illinois lands a few more JUCOs in the next few years, is scheduled to receive loads of playing time in 2017