RANTOUL, Ill. - Illinois football's rash of injuries have forced the Illini to adjust its original game plan. Adapt or die.
The latest injury -- freshman running back Reggie Corbin will miss the season with a torn labrum in his shoulder -- robs Illinois of more depth at running back. The team already lost true freshman rusher Dre Brown for the season when he suffered a torn ACL during spring practice.
To add depth, Illinois is experimenting with senior cornerback and prolific return man V'Angelo Bentley in the backfield. But offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said Corbin's injury doesn't change much of his game plan and that he's confident in his running back rotation, as long as his top three options (senior Josh Ferguson, freshman Ke'Shawn Vaughn and junior Henry Enyenihi) stay healthy.
"Henry has really improved since the spring," Cubit said of the junior-college transfer. "I'm really happy with him. Ke'Shawn's a really talented kid. I think Reggie would've had some spots there to get him in. We're going to work (Bentley) over and get him a small package there so he can help out there. You'd like to have four [running backs], but I think we got three that I think we can count on."
Earlier this week, the Illini lost senior defensive end Jihad Ward, who has drawn the eyes of many scouts during training camp, for two games due to minor knee surgery. With Paul James III withdrawing from the university before camp, the Illini moved LEO Dawuane Smoot to strongside defensive end. Defensive tackle Tito Odenigbo also has repped at SDE, though the return of senior Kenny Nelson likely means that Odenigbo will stay at his normal spot.
Smoot, however, will be the starting SDE to begin the season and likely will stay there next season due to a lack of program depth at the position. He's receiving an early education at the position.
"It's a big transition," Smoot said. "It's a lot of learning I haven't done. I've been at LEO for two years, so it's like I'm new again. I have to learn a different position. There's some similarities there, but I'm progressing every day. The biggest transition is just lining up, because I'm usually on the weakside. Now, I'm on the strongside. When it comes to blitzing, I have to do certain things but I never would do on the other side."
The Illini also must make up for the losses of two of their top four receivers. Sophomore Mikey Dudek will be out until October and may not play at all this season after suffering a torn ACL during the spring. Senior Justin Hardee suffered a fractured foot during offseason workouts and will miss the first few games.
During camp, senior Geronimo Allison has been the most consistent wideout, Cubit said, while fellow starters Malik Turner and Dionte Taylor both have displayed positive moments but also inconsistency.
"I think after Saturday we'll figure it all out," Cubit said. "Because then you have to factor in when Justin comes back, how many plays are they going to get in there? I think the scrimmage will tell a lot. ...Get answers. We'll know after the second scrimmage. That's what I've always thought."