USA Today // Matthew O'Haren

Position Primer: Offensive Line

With a talented but injury-prone star QB, Illini offensive line faces, must fend off a lot of pressure

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

Day 4: Tight ends

Guard/center

The starters (guard, guard, center): Ted Karras, senior; Nick Allegretti, redshirt freshman; Joe Spencer, junior

Backups: Zach Heath, junior; Chris O'Connor, junior; Connor Brennan, junior; Gabe Megginson, freshman; Chris Boles, senior

Assuming Ted Karras shows no ill effects from recovering from a torn ACL -- he said last week that he's fully healthy -- he will be the Illini's strongest and most reliable offensive lineman, and he has a chance to play at the next level. Illinois needs more roadgrader, nasty guys like the four-year starter.

The staff thinks it might have one in redshirt freshman Nick Allegretti, who has been penciled in as the 2015 right guard starter since he arrived last year. Allegretti is big, strong and nasty. But he showed during the spring that he might not be completely ready for the Big Ten starting spot. He appeared to overloaded by the opportunity and information, but he needed such reps because he will be a huge part of the Illini's front five success.

Joe Spencer is reliable – a good leader and rarely makes crushing mental miscues – and versatile. As he enters his junior season, Spencer likely has not hit his ceiling yet. On a line with so few experienced players, he must be a model of consistency.

Zach Heath looks to be the sixth man of this offensive line. An injury cost him part of the spring schedule, but he immediately brought the physicality and strength this group so sorely needs. He looks capable of starting, whether due to a slip or an injury in front of him. Fellow JUCO transfer Connor Brennan also plays physical but needs to add strength. He struggled early with the speed of the game but provides solid depth with senior Chris O'Connor, who showed big signs of improvement last season before an injury.

One big name to watch here: four-star freshman Gabe Meggison. The Illini would love to redshirt the future bookend tackle, but the Jacksonville (Ill.) native may be too talented (and strong enough) to keep off the field. While he likely wouldn't be ready to play tackle, guard could be a possibility midway through the season.

The interior isn't where Illinois want it to be quite yet, but there sure are a lot more capable bodies.

Offensive tackle

USA Today // Andrew Weber

Redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Christian DiLauro is one of the Illini OL foundation pieces.

The starters: Christian DiLauro, sophomore; Austin Schmidt, junior

Backups: Pat Flavin, senior; Gabe Megginson, freshman; Jordan Fagan, sophomore; Adam Solomon, freshman; Zeke Martin, freshman

Illinois saw something in Christian DiLauro during his evaluation and rolled the dice on an offer. The high school defensive linemen and tight end had the quickness and the frame they wanted in an offensive tackle. But even the UI staff didn't know for certain if that quickness would hold up once DiLauro gained weight. The slight gamble appears to have paid off. DiLauro is the most talented offensive linemen of Tim Beckman's first two recruiting classes. While he isn't a road grader, DiLauro has the chance to be one of the premier pass protectors in the Big Ten, something quarterback Wes Lunt sorely needs.

Junior Austin Schmidt looks like a solid but unspectacular tackle on the opposite side. He's got a strong upperbody but smallish lower half. He doesn't appear to have much competition, however.

Pat Flavin is the elder of the group. Yet, entering his fifth season at Illinois, he has yet to solidify a starting spot. The staff played Flavin at left guard this spring just to give him another opportunity. That probably won't stick. Flavin can fill in for a pinch but isn't a great starting option.

JUCO transfer Jordan Fagan is raw and could use a redshirt season to gain weight. Megginson has the weight and talent but could use another year to add even more strength and hone his footwork. True freshman Adam Solomon and Zeke Martin should be redshirted, hopefully a luxury the Illini can now afford with almost all of their offensive linemen in the future.

DiLauro could be a big bright spot, but there are so many questions around him. If Illinois needs one group to overachieve more than any other, it's the offensive line – specifically the tackles.


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