Jihad Ward is "probable" to play in the Illinois football season opener vs. Kent State on Friday night, according to an injury report released by the team on Wednesday.
The 6-foot-6, 285-pound starting strongside defensive end had arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks ago and was initially expected to miss the first two games of the season. But recently dismissed coach Tim Beckman began to hint last week that Ward could return sooner than expected.
Ward went through drills last week in a no-contact red jersey. This week, he practiced in a green, limited-contact jersey.
"He practiced (Monday) and looked good," interim coach Bill Cubit said on Tuesday. "We'll get him out there again and get him a few more reps and see how he's running around, but yesterday he looked good."
Ward's reps may be limited in Week 1, but his return is a positive sign for the Illini defense. Ward is considered one of the Illini's top NFL prospects and best defenders.
Junior LEO Dawuane Smoot had moved to end to fill in for Ward, with junior Carroll Phillips moving into the starting LEO spot.
Illini Injury Report - Sept. 4 vs. Kent State