Arrelious Benn is a true superstar and a future NFL high draft choice. At 6'-2", 225, he is big, strong, intelligent, fast, and has great hands. And he has the work ethic to improve. Known as "Rejus," Benn also returns kickoffs and carries the ball on option pitches from his slot position.
However, after grabbing one pass for a nine yard gain early in the Missouri game, Benn went out with a sprained ankle too serious for him to return. He started against Illinois State even though he was not 100% recovered. His only pass reception was called back by penalty, and two potential option runs didn't materialize.
Now, numerous Illinois fans are calling into talk shows and ranting on internet sites on the importance of utilizing Benn's considerable gifts frequently. Somehow, they seem to feel Illini coaches are unaware of Benn's ability. But offensive coordinator Mike Schultz is intimately aware of his need to involve Benn in his offense.
"We'll have to figure out a plan for this as we get into the year, but if I was a defensive coach, I'd want to make sure 9 (Benn) is out of the game. We moved him around and put him into different positions that we thought he would get the ball. When we did that, the defense played to him a little bit and took him away.
"I think of our plays, 30%, which is quite a bit, were designed to get him the ball. But the defense was trying to take him out of the ball game. That's smart defense. I'd want to get him out of the game plan too. But we feel like we have enough weapons that we'll get that worked out in the weeks coming."
The fans see Benn on the field and assume he is healthy. But even mild ankle sprains take awhile to heal, and one's speed and cutting ability are definitely lessened until recovery is complete. Benn is a competitor and insisted on playing in the Illinois State game despite the tender ankle.
"I'm not saying it was bothering Rejus a bunch, but we were still concerned about the ankle a little bit," Schultz explains. "And the direction of the game and the way it went. When you can turn around and hand off and get 8 yards a carry, it's kind of hard not to go back to that."
Benn was asked why he got no touches in the ISU game, and he provided a similar answer.
"Things happen. Our quarterback (Juice Williams) went down. Maybe the defense dictates wherever the ball goes. A big part of our game was for the receivers to block on the perimeter so the running backs could work on their games. We're going into the Big 10 now, and that's what counts for us right now."
Will his touches increase in upcoming games?
"Yes, I fully expect it, and I know I will."
Benn was aware of his limited opportunities in the ISU game, but helping the Illinois win was his top priority.
"A little bit, I'm only human. Those things do pop into your head, but you've got to stay focused on what needs to be done. I'm a team player."
The bye week came at a good time for the Illini. They have two weeks to correct mistakes from the first two games and rekindle enthusiasm for their offensive potential. The Illini didn't show ISU their entire offense. Benn looks forward to seeing what can happen when the full power of the offense is unleashed.
"Yeah, it's gonna be a lot different. There are some things we need to work on, and this bye week is something great for us so we can work on the things we need to work on. We need to get back into the flow of things like we know we're capable of. The kind of things like we did at Camp Rantoul."
It is also helpful to get everyone healthy before the start of the Big 10 season. Especially Benn.
"Yeah, we've got to get everybody back on their feet. I haven't been healthy these last two games, and I'm looking forward to being 100%. When we put it together, it's gonna be a big difference. We're gonna put it together and just let everything take care of itself."