The revamped Illinois football staff is meeting this week to set their recruiting big board and plan of attack for the final, furious month before Signing Day.
The new assistants -- offensive line coach A.J. Ricker, tight ends/special teams coach, linebackers coach Tim McGarigle and defensive backs coach Paul Williams -- all bring new areas and new ties into the fold, so the Illini have expanded their search to find instant impact talent.
The Illini currently have 19 commitments that make up a class that currently ranks 11th in the Big Ten (53rd nationally). Though, not all of the current commits are expected to sign on National Signing Day (Feb. 3).
Illinois currently plans to fill six more scholarships in this class -- though that is subject to change -- with a majority of those set aside for offensive positions. The Illini plan for three big weekends of official visitors, Jan. 15, Jan. 22 and Jan. 29, to try and secure their targets.
Today, I break down the defense.
Scholarships by position
- Linebacker (1)
- Defensive back (1 or 2)
- Defensive line (possibly 1)
Illinois needs an inside linebacker who can chase sideline-to-sideline but also hold up strength-wise in the Big Ten, preferably one who can compete for immediate playing time.
- Colby Reeder, Wilmington (Del.) Salesianum: Reeder recently committed to Delaware, but Illinois is still recruiting him hard. The Delaware Gatorade Player of the Year is just a darn good football player, much like Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year Sam Brodner. But the younger brother of Penn State linebacker Troy Reeder is much bigger than Brodner and looks like the instant impact defender that Illinois needs, or maybe even the tough short yardage running back they need. I must admit, Reeder is my favorite Illini prospect left on the board due to his tape and fit. He doesn't have a huge offer list, partly because he didn't have much interest in recruiting during the season (he was focused on winning a state title -- Salesanium lost 32-26 in the final). The 6-foot-4, 225-pound athlete who can play multiple posiitions should have more offers, but Illinois, Syracuse, Delaware and Villanova appear to lead. Both Illini head coach Bill Cubit and new defensive backs coach Paul Williams went to Delaware, where Reeder's father played. He is an Illini priority.
- Elias Reynolds, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Poly Prep: One of the top talents left on the Illini board, the former Rutgers commit visited Illinois last month and is one of their top priorities. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound prospect has the size and enough speed to play right away. His physicality makes him a likely long-term fit at middle linebacker. Pitt could be tough to beat, but Illinois seems to be firmly in the mix more than anyone else.
- Jake Hansen, Tapron Springs (Fla.) East Lake: The former Iowa State commit reopened his recruitment and will visit Illinois on Jan. 15 followed by a visit to Florida International on Jan. 22. Illinois is his top offer.
The Illini have added some length and athleticism to their secondary with the additions of in-state prospects Drake Spears and Stanley Green and JUCO cornerback Ahmari Hayes. They want to add more, regardless of the position.
- Isaiah Simmons, Olathe (Kan.) North: The 6-foot-3, 200-pound safety is one of the best talents left on the Illini's board. He visited Illinois last month. But Nebraska will be really tough to beat and he's planned January visits to Missouri and Louisville as well.
- Chris Brown, Houston (Texas) Alief Elsik: The Illini admittedly are a long shot here. The four-star defensive back has visited some big-time programs (Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, UCLA and Michigan State), but Illinois hopes to get an official visit.
- Arnold Azunna, Mansfield (Texas) Lake Ridge: The 6-foot cornerback is still committed to Iowa State but after the coaching change is at least considering other options. Still, the Cyclones seem like the favorite.
- Frank Coppet, Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas: The 6-foot cornerback has two teammates already committed to Illinois: kicker James McCourt and receiver Dominic Thieman. Will the Vanderbilt commit join the growing STA to Illini pipeline?
- Micah Croom, La Mirada (Calif.): The former Utah commit visited Illinois last month. Most of the other schools he's considering include Ivy League schools: Dartmouth, Penn, Harvard and Yale. But Stanford is coming strong, recruiting him as a wide receiver, and would be tough to beat if they offer.
- Jeremy Level, Greensboro (N.C.) Page: The Appalachian State commitment recently received an Illini offer, which will certainly make the 6-foot-2 safety reconsider. Expect an official visit this month.
- Evan Jones, Conyers (Ga.) Salem: The Illini recently have come on strong for the 6-foot-2 Georgia native. If they don't land one of their higher targets, Illinois could be able to pull him away from one of the service academies (Air Force or Navy). He'll visit the Illini on Jan. 22, sandwich by visits to Air Force and Navy.
Illinois already has five defensive line commitments: Tre Johnson, Joshua Black, Brandon Jones, Kenyon Jackson and Antonio Shleton. But with the 2017 defensive line depth chart looking quite scary, the Illini won't shy away from adding
- Allen Cater, Marietta (Ga.) Mt Paran Christian: The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Georgia native is the most physically impressive Illini defensive line target on the board. But that means there are a lot of other schools in on him too. He's already visited Arkansas and Indiana and plans a visit to Wake Forest on Jan. 15. Illinois will try to secure a visit.
- Izon Pulley, Olney (Fla.) Our Lady Good Counsel: The Maryland native and Miami commit received an Illini offer this week. New Illinois assistant Paul Williams, a former Miami assistant, recruits the East Coast and knows plenty about Pulley, who also has offers from Boston College, UConn and Cincinnati.
- Isaiah Bean, Houston (Texas) Summer Creek: The 6-foot-4, 210-pound pass rusher just received an Illini offer and is teammates with one of Illinois' top tight end targets, Zarrian Holcombe. The Illini would love to land a packaged deal.
You guys won't hold me to this, right? Great. I knew you'd be reasonable when these predictions are sure to go wrong.
- Linebacker: Colby Reeder
- Defensive back: Juwuane Parchman doesn't sign with Illinois, and the Illini land Jeremy Level
- Defensive line: Black flips to Syracuse, and Illinois lands Isaiah Bean