Werner's Whits: Illini welcome OL visitors

Illini Inquirer publisher provides thoughts on the Illini football visitor list this weekend, Tim Clary's return, Corey Clement and MLB offseason.

Illinois has a nice, long list of visitors for Saturday's Wisconsin game. While the highest profile recruit likely is four-star Brother Rice junior WR Ricky Smalling -- an important Illini target in 2017 -- the two most urgent visitors are two 2016 offensive linemen: Coy Cronk and Alaric Jackson. The Illini would like to add two more offensive linemen to the class (they already have four OL commits), and these  two are probably the two top targets.

Cronk, of course, is on the all-name team. But he's an intriguing prospect, as well, because plays offensive tackle and middle linebacker for his high school team. Yes, MLB. He was 245 during his junior season but is over 270 now. He has a good frame, good athleticism and is still growing. Illinois, Indiana and Vanderbilt are his power-five offers. Also he's an Illinois legacy. His grandfather and great-grandfather played for the Illini. I'd venture to say it's an Illinois-Vanderbilt battle.

Alaric Jackson's recruitment is interesting. I think the three star offensive tackle was set on going to Michigan State, and while the Spartans offered him, they filled their scholarship spots for OL already. So he may have missed his chance. Jackson -- a 6-foot-7, 280-pound tackle -- has only visited MSU and has gone quiet recently. Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin also have offered. But the longer this recruitment drags out, the better position Illinois will be in. This reminds me a bit of Ke'Shawn Vaughn. Illinois hangs around and proves how much they want him. If the staff can get Jackson to Champaign this weekend, a win over Wisconsin would help their sell even more.

Illinois commits visiting this weekend are: OL Kurt Gavin, DT Kenyon Jackson, DE Brandon Jones, RB Kentrail Moran, QB Eli Peters, DT Antonio Shelton, WR Dominic Thieman and LB Tim Walton. That's half the committed class of 16. Good to have a bunch of guys who have said "yes" to Illinois to be around while the Illini try to convince a few others to join them.

H-Back Tim Clary will return to action this weekend -- and it's a sneaky big addition.  had a great first two weeks as a lead blocker and a receiving option in the flat. He's the Illini's most physical blocker and a key component in their redzone and goal-line packages, two areas that the Illini have had major struggles. He made two key blocks on Josh Ferguson touchdown runs in the first two games. But Clary suffered a serious hand injury in the Week 2 win over Western Illinois. At the time, the team thought the senior -- a former walk-on who received a scholarship this season -- could be lost for the year. But the doctors have monitored his progress and cleared him to play this week with a cast/club over his injured hand. While Clary might not be able to catch passes easily, he will play, Cubit told me. So expect him in short-yardage situations.

Expect Wisconsin running back Corey Clement to play on SaturdayHow effective will the 5-foot-11, 219-pound junior be in his return from sports hernia surgery, though? It sounds like Clement is almost 100 percent physically but is still getting over some mental hurdles. Clement isn't Melvin Gordon, but he's still an NFL prospect who is much better than the RBs behind him on the depth chart. A Wisconsin offense that sorely needs a gamebreaker will get a big boost whenever Clement, who has a combination of power and burst, feels himself. Illinois just hopes it takes another week or two before he reaches that comfort level.

Michigan punter Blake O'Neill gets it. Sure, he made an infamous mistake that will be replayed decades. But he's handled the fallout better than 99.9 percent of us. We all should be as mature as Blake O'Neill.

Cubs free agency: Sign David Price (6-7 years, $26-28 million per) -OR- Jordan Zimmermann (5-6 years, $18-20 million per); sign John Lackey (2 years, $11-14 million per); sign mid-level CF (re-sign Dexter Fowler or sign Denard Span to a three-year deal?) if Cubs decide neither Kris Bryant (it's been discussed) nor Billy McKinney is not their CF.

Cardinals free agency: Re-sign Jason Heyward (8-year, $20-25 million per, with a player opt-out after four or five seasons); sign reliever Tyler Clippard (3 years, $8-10 million per).

White Sox free agency: Justin Upton -OR- Yoennis Cespedes (6-7 years, $18-23 million per) -- If you're going to spend money, spend it on no-doubt bats; but they likely will make smaller moves to get younger, better hitters; just no more old dudes, especially named Adam.


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