The unsung heroes of the Illinois defense are the two interior "bigs" of the defensive line. defensive tackles, Jarrod "Chunky" Clements and Rob Bain. This position isn't glamorous, but consider these rising senior defensive tackles the table setters. In the run game, both Bain and Clements are responsible not only for their gap but simultaneously eating space while they penetrate their gaps. This keeps the linebackers and safeties free to make tackles. Against the pass, this sets up the defensive ends or edge rushers with one-on-one match ups.
2015 in Review
Since Bain is thicker than Clements, he aligns as the nose tackle, or "one technique," which places him to the strongside of the offensive formation. His run responsibility is primarily the A-Gap, which is located between the center and guard. Due to alignment, Bain takes on the majority of double teams. Against Nebraska, Bain lined up as a slanted nose tackle. This put him in the middle of center Ryne Reeves and right guard Chongo Kondolo. Reeves stepped to his left to down block and that put Bain one on one versus Kondolo. Bain's initial reaction at the snap of the ball was quick and his low pad level allowed him to penetrate, while using his power to defeat Kondolo to get the tackle for loss.
Against MTSU, Bain struck the LG with good hand placement. He shocked the OL and was able to place his hands inside the breast plate. Once Bain had control, he quickly disengaged to make the tackle for a one-yard gain.
As the "three tehcnique," Clements aligns to the open or weak side of the offensive formation. For example, think of Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy, who was coached by Illini defensive line coach and defensive coordinator Mike Phair. Clements is athletic and nimble and his technique helped him finish third on defense with 11.5 tackles for loss. Chunky is responsible for the B-Gap, which is located between the guard and tackle. During the Iowa game, Clements showed the necessary burst to cause disruption. Iowa LG James Daniels stepped to his left attempting to zone off Clements. However, Chunky's instincts, hand combat and change of direction got him behind the line of scrimmage and he finished with a solid tackle on RB Jordan Canzeri.
Wisconsin also ran a zone run to the left and Clements once again blew past the LG. Once Micah Kapoi lunged out with his head down, Clements blew past him and recorded the TFL. Clements timed the snap, but more importantly, he finished the tackle.
Even though Bain and Clements had solid seasons, there are a few things that both "bigs" can work on to elevate their skill-sets. Against the run, Bain should continue to work on hand combat to defeat more double teams at the point of attack. Also, he must get more push up the middle of the pocket to pressure QBs off their launch point.
Clements definitely fits the mold of a three technique, getting immediate penetration by being over-powering or out-quicking the OL versus the run. But in order to be a dominant and complete defensive tackle, he must improve his hand worky. That will determine whether he can become an elite Big Ten defensive tackle and a legit pro prospect.
The defensive stood out last year and quickly became the strength of the Illini. The core of the unit, led by Clements and Bain, set up the rest of the defense for success. It's no secret that the non- conference 2016 opponents and Big Ten is aware of how disruptive the interior can be. It will be the second season in the 4-3 scheme, and the Illini DTs should continue to improve their production in disrupting both the run and pass.