CHAMPAIGN - The possibility of Illinois sophomore receiver Mikey Dudek returning to the field this season is quickly approaching the point of no return.
Illinois interim coach Bill Cubit said that a decision on whether Dudek -- who suffered a torn ACL during spring practice in April -- will play this season likely would come "at the end of next week" before the Illini's seventh game of the season, homecoming against Wisconsin on Oct. 24.
As a freshman, Dudek became the sixth Illini in program history to top 1,000 receiving yards in a season. While the Illini (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) certainly could use Dudek's talents, the coaches don't want to waste a full season of Dudek's eligibility to rush him back from his recovery to play a fraction of a season.
"I think it's to a point there where we have to do what's best for the player," Cubit said. "We all live with that. It's all about him. I still think we're leading the Big Ten in passing. Would you like to have him? Yeah. Would you like to have Justin (Hardee)? Yeah. I never cry about injuries. ...We'll never use that as an excuse."
A similar decision could be made on senior receiver Justin Hardee, who hasn't played yet this season due to a broken foot. Hardee, who has 47 career receptions, was expected to start this season.
"Probably next week we'll figure that out too," Cubit said about Hardee. "If it's after next week and he's not playing the Wisconsin game. If he does (play against Wisconsin) and they come back, then you have six games and hopefully you're playing a seventh game (a bowl), seven games isn't bad. But if it gets down to four or five, that doesn't make any sense for the kid."
Freshman defensive tackle Jamal Milan also may have a return deadline ahead of him. While Milan played in the first game, a knee injury has sidelined him since. The Illini could choose to sit the promising defensive tackle the rest of the season and apply for a medical redshirt.
"He's on the fifth week (of a six week recovery)," Cubit said. "He's another one that we need to find whether he can play next week because if he can't, he's probably a redshirt candidate too."