The Illini secured their 16th commitment in the class of 2016 on Friday morning with the pledge of Orlando (FL) First Academy OL/DL Tre Johnson. The 6'7" 285 pound lineman gives the Illini a huge athlete on either side of the ball. Let's take a closer look at the latest commit in more detail.
Johnson, who also held offers from Cincinnati, East Carolina, Louisville, Miami (FL), Syracuse, and others, is a two-way player at his high school, and is a physical presence in the trenches.
Offensively, Johnson has a quick first step and plays with good upper body leverage. Once he engages, he is very good in maintaining and finishing his blocks, even against shorter offensive linemen. He will need to refine his footwork more at the college level, but he doesn't appear to have any bad habits that would greatly hinder him in that area.
However, his offensive technique may not even matter. Johnson also is an impact player on the defensive line, and the way his high school team utilizes him on the line isn't all that different from the way Illinois utilizes mammoth defensive lineman Jihad Ward.
Johnson is much more raw than Ward, but he is also four years younger and has years of college weight training ahead of him. The two are similar in frame: Tall, athletic, with long arms and the ability to chase plays down from behind.
The Illini already have a solid group of offensive tackles in the 2015 class in Gabe Megginson, Adam Solomon, and several others, and have commitments in 2016 already from Jake Cerny and Kurt Gavin. So moving Johnson to defense would not only balance the roster, but give Johnson an opportunity to play early at a position that will desperately be needing depth by the time he arrives.
I would predict that Johnson would redshirt his first year on campus in order to prepare his body for Big Ten football, but with the tools he has, I expect Johnson to contribute early in his Illinois career.
Furthermore, the Illinois staff deserves a tip of the cap on this one. Many expected recruiting to suffer heavily with the circumstances surrounding the program, but interim HC Bill Cubit and his staff have not skipped a beat and are still chasing some of the Illini's top prospects, even without a guaranteed future in Champaign.