Year in Review: WR Desmond Cain

Illini Inquirer football analyst Micheal Young reviews Illini WR Desmond Cain's freshman season and sets expectations for his 2016 season

And to think, true freshman Desmond Cain was expected to come in to Illinois and compete for a defensive back job.

But Illinois coach Bill Cubit  made the switch during training camp to add depth to the wide receiver corps. Cain was a pleasant surprise, finishing second on the team with 53 receptions (behind Geronimo Allison) and third on the team with 492 receiving yards. Cain primarily worked out of slot, which was open for competition due the absence of the injured Mikey Dudek

2015 in review

Cain showed a great feel for the game and toughness. He wasn't afraid to mix it up with defensive backs on running plays. He blocked in the open field and made tough catches in traffic with the anticipation of getting hit hard.

Against Minnesota, he showed veteran savvy running across the middle of the field. Cubit called a play to move the pocket for Lunt to get on the perimeter. Cain started on the left side of the field and came across to his right. He showed FBI (Football Intelligence), reading the defensive coverage on the run, determining if the Gophers were in zone or man-to-man. If the Gophers played zone, Cain would have to adjust his route by staying in the void. But since there was no cornerback to the right side of the field, that let him know it was man coverage and to continue to run with Lunt. He caught the pass and had the instincts to make the first defender miss before picking up the first down. 

Against Ohio State, Cain led all receivers with 10 catches for 102 yards. On this following play, he showed quickness off the line of scrimmage and worked the distance between himself and the defender to make the catch. After the reception, Cain showed strength by breaking a tackle before running for the first down. 

Concentration was another big reason for a successful freshman year. This was a 29-yard catch by Cain with three Iowa defenders in the area. Lining up in the slot gave Cain a free release off the line of scrimmage. He was able to stress the linebacker, covering ground quickly, and then avoided contact to stay on course for the seam shot along the hash marks. Once Cain caught the ball, he was able to avoid the big hit from safety. 

Cain's only touchdown came against Purdue, a 25-yard pass that came before the end of the first half to extend the lead. Cain lined up at the top of the numbers on the outside away from his usual slot position. He showed solid anticipation by getting his head around to locate the ball at the yard marker once he realized the CB made a break on the shorter route. Cain anticipated the hit from the safety but was able to spin out of it on his way to the end zone. 

Offseason Focus

There is still plenty of room for Cain to improve as a wideout. He must continue to learn the route tree because a lot of his success came in the short to intermediate passing game. He has the suddenness to stretch field for a vertical shot but must address his play speed. Also, he must continue to improve his-short area quickness. When Cain receives a smoke screen with a soft defensive back, he has to display more COD (change of direction), making the defense pay with a five-yard or more average on those screens. Lastly, he must be a force on third-down conversions. Many Illini offensive drives came to a stalemate because no one could get enough separation to get open, which forced too many punts. 

2016 Expectations

As a freshman, Cain had five games with five or more receptions. He should continue to improve with as he matures and becomes more comfortable with the playbook. The Illini will continue to be a pass-first team until the running game becomes more consistent. For the time being, this offense should be able to put a lot of stress on B1G defenses because the offense could have three, four and sometimes five capable playmakers at the receiever position. Cain could morph into Lunt's go-to receiver with the ability to beat defensive backs, whether he plays inside or outside.

Micheal Young is the football analyst for IlliniInquirer.com. Young was a four-year starter for Illinois football and a team captain. The St. Louis native also played for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals from 2001-04. He serves as a color analyst for several broadcast outlets and co-hosts an Illini podcast with former UI teammate Carey Davis on Huddlecasts.com


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Against Ohio State, Cain led all receivers with 10 catches for 102 yards. On this following play, he showed quickness off the line of scrimmage and worked the distance between himself and the defender to make the catch. After the reception, Cain showed strength by breaking a tackle before running for the first down. 

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Concentration was another big reason for a successful freshman year. This was a 29-yard catch by Cain with three Iowa defenders in the area. Lining up in the slot gave Cain a free release off the line of scrimmage. He was able to stress the linebacker, covering ground quickly, and then avoided contact to stay on course for the seam shot along the hash marks. Once Cain caught the ball, he was able to avoid the big hit from safety. 

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Cain's only touchdown came against Purdue, a 25-yard pass that came before the end of the first half to extend the lead. Cain lined up at the top of the numbers on the outside away from his usual slot position. He showed solid anticipation by getting his head around to locate the ball at the yard marker once he realized the CB made a break on the shorter route. Cain anticipated the hit from the safety but was able to spin out of it on his way to the end zone. 

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Offseason Focus

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There is still plenty of room for Cain to improve as a wideout. He must continue to learn the route tree because a lot of his success came in the short to intermediate passing game. He has the suddenness to stretch field for a vertical shot but must address his play speed. Also, he must continue to improve his-short area quickness. When Cain receives a smoke screen with a soft defensive back, he has to display more COD (change of direction), making the defense pay with a five-yard or more average on those screens. Lastly, he must be a force on third-down conversions. Many Illini offensive drives came to a stalemate because no one could get enough separation to get open, which forced too many punts. 

\n

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2016 Expectations

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As a freshman, Cain had five games with five or more receptions. He should continue to improve with as he matures and becomes more comfortable with the playbook. The Illini will continue to be a pass-first team until the running game becomes more consistent. For the time being, this offense should be able to put a lot of stress on B1G defenses because the offense could have three, four and sometimes five capable playmakers at the receiever position. Cain could morph into Lunt's go-to receiver with the ability to beat defensive backs, whether he plays inside or outside.

\n

Micheal Young is the football analyst for IlliniInquirer.com. Young was a four-year starter for Illinois football and a team captain. The St. Louis native also played for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals from 2001-04. He serves as a color analyst for several broadcast outlets and co-hosts an Illini podcast with former UI teammate Carey Davis on Huddlecasts.com

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And to think, true freshman Desmond Cain was expected to come in to Illinois and compete for a defensive back job.

But Illinois coach Bill Cubit made the switch during training camp to add depth to the wide receiver corps. Cain was a pleasant surprise, finishing second on the team with 53 receptions (behind Geronimo Allison) and third on the team with 492 receiving yards. Cain primarily worked out of slot, which was open for competition due the absence of the injured Mikey Dudek.

2015 in review

Cain showed a great feel for the game and toughness. He wasn't afraid to mix it up with defensive backs on running plays. He blocked in the open field and made tough catches in traffic with the anticipation of getting hit hard.

Against Minnesota, he showed veteran savvy running across the middle of the field. Cubit called a play to move the pocket for Lunt to get on the perimeter. Cain started on the left side of the field and came across to his right. He showed FBI (Football Intelligence), reading the defensive coverage on the run, determining if the Gophers were in zone or man-to-man. If the Gophers played zone, Cain would have to adjust his route by staying in the void. But since there was no cornerback to the right side of the field, that let him know it was man coverage and to continue to run with Lunt. He caught the pass and had the instincts to make the first defender miss before picking up the first down.

Against Ohio State, Cain led all receivers with 10 catches for 102 yards. On this following play, he showed quickness off the line of scrimmage and worked the distance between himself and the defender to make the catch. After the reception, Cain showed strength by breaking a tackle before running for the first down.

Concentration was another big reason for a successful freshman year. This was a 29-yard catch by Cain with three Iowa defenders in the area. Lining up in the slot gave Cain a free release off the line of scrimmage. He was able to stress the linebacker, covering ground quickly, and then avoided contact to stay on course for the seam shot along the hash marks. Once Cain caught the ball, he was able to avoid the big hit from safety.

Cain's only touchdown came against Purdue, a 25-yard pass that came before the end of the first half to extend the lead. Cain lined up at the top of the numbers on the outside away from his usual slot position. He showed solid anticipation by getting his head around to locate the ball at the yard marker once he realized the CB made a break on the shorter route. Cain anticipated the hit from the safety but was able to spin out of it on his way to the end zone.

Offseason Focus

There is still plenty of room for Cain to improve as a wideout. He must continue to learn the route tree because a lot of his success came in the short to intermediate passing game. He has the suddenness to stretch field for a vertical shot but must address his play speed. Also, he must continue to improve his-short area quickness. When Cain receives a smoke screen with a soft defensive back, he has to display more COD (change of direction), making the defense pay with a five-yard or more average on those screens. Lastly, he must be a force on third-down conversions. Many Illini offensive drives came to a stalemate because no one could get enough separation to get open, which forced too many punts.

2016 Expectations

As a freshman, Cain had five games with five or more receptions. He should continue to improve with as he matures and becomes more comfortable with the playbook. The Illini will continue to be a pass-first team until the running game becomes more consistent. For the time being, this offense should be able to put a lot of stress on B1G defenses because the offense could have three, four and sometimes five capable playmakers at the receiever position. Cain could morph into Lunt's go-to receiver with the ability to beat defensive backs, whether he plays inside or outside.

Micheal Young is the football analyst for IlliniInquirer.com. Young was a four-year starter for Illinois football and a team captain. The St. Louis native also played for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals from 2001-04. He serves as a color analyst for several broadcast outlets and co-hosts an Illini podcast with former UI teammate Carey Davis on Huddlecasts.com.

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