As expected, Illinois coach Bill Cubit is struggling to recruit on a two-year contract -- which is basically a one-year deal. Missouri defensive back Bryce Banks committed to N.C. State over Illinois days after taking an official visit to Illinois (despite a closer relationship with the Illini staff) due to stability (and because he could enroll early at NC State and not at Illinois). Florida linebacker/defensive end Shemar Smith committed to Oregon State days after taking an official visit to Illinois. Illini legacy Coy Cronk -- his grandfather and great grandfather played at Illinois -- committed to homestate Indiana. Texas linebacker Trey Baldwin skipped a scheduled Illini visit to head back to Columbia, Mo., and reaffirm his commitment to new Missouri coach Barry Odom. New Syracuse coach Dino Babers is all over Illini commitments Joshua Black and Kentrail Moran, who are reconsidering their commitments. Linebacker commitment Tim Walton also is keeping his options open, and safety Juwuane Parchman also is one to watch. Cubit accepted a two-year deal (though he hasn't signed a contract yet). He knew to the situation to which he agreed. The staff members knew it'd be tough to recruit. But even they probably didn't know it'd be this tough this quick.
Illinois is not giving up on Simms. He took a visit to Missouri over the weekend with some East St. Louis teammates who pressed Simms to flip. Simms, one of the better Illini commitments, didn't even announce his commitment to Missouri, a Missouri assistant did on Twitter (without using Simms' name of course). Like many schools have -- and like Illinois likely would if they were in the same position -- Missouri sold Simms on stability, playing in the SEC and an East St. Louis connection. But Simms has been in contact with the Illini staff frequently over the past few days. Illinois also has ESL teammate Stanley Green, who committed to Illinois last week, and ESL coach Darren Sunkett in their corner. I was told Illinois still has a "50/50" chance to sway Simms back across the Mississippi River and keep him in state.
If Simms does not re-join the Illini, Illinois needs another offensive lineman. In most years, they'd need two. A prospect to watch: Florida OL Grayson Stover. California OL David Garfunkel also recently visited the Illini. But Illinois doesn't want to reach for a player that won't help them right away.
The focus for the rest of the Class of 2016 is on players who can help immediately, since the staff isn't guaranteed anything beyond 2016. The last two commitments, Green and JUCO cornerback Ahmari Hayes, fit the bill. Both add length, speed and physicality to a secondary that sorely needs those traits. The focus will be at defensive back (the Illini lost three starters and have little proven depth behind those graduating seniors), linebacker (losing Julian Jones hurts a position that needs speed and size), receiver (Illinois wants a player who can stretch the field) and tight end (Arkansas TE Dylan Soehner is one to watch).
One name worth watching: Delaware linebacker Colby Reeder. The 6-foot-3, 2225-pound Salesianum School product can play all over the field from defensive end, to linebacker to safety. He had a Miami (Fla.) offer at one point before Mark Richt took over. But the Illinois staff has recruited the Delaware defender longer than any Division I staff. Reeder is a top athlete with a 40-inch vertical and close to a 4.6 40-yard dash time. He also is a workout warrior in the weight room and a nasty player on the field. Check out some of his film here. Illinois needs to find a diamond in the rough and Reeder may be one. With little depth at linebacker, Reeder could compete for immediate playing time at Illinois.
Illinois is expected to announce a few new staff members in the next few days. Former Illini and Missouri offensive line coach A.J. Ricker is expected to be one of them. Ricker, who served under Cubit for the 2013 season before leaving for his alma mater to coach under recently retired Gary Pinkel, was the best run-blocking offensive line coach the Illini have had in the past five years and one of the best recruiters the Illini recently had on staff. He will open up some doors in recruiting, especially in Texas.
The Lonestar State will be a focus for the Illini in January. The Illini are heavily pursuing several top Texas targets, including WR Zach Farrar and WR Donnell Dunn. Expect more names to crop up soon. Illini wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy has worked the Houston and Dallas areas recently.