As is often the case, the state of Illinois develops more linemen than any other position on the football field. The 2011 class is especially prominent in this regard, as former Illini center and current talent evaluator Randy Taylor discusses.
"Michael Rouse from Homewood-Flossmoor is a talented kid. He's got the skills to be an NFL guy. They have a new coach coming in. If the light comes on, then maybe he's got a chance.
"I gave him one of my highest grades just because his potential is so good. He probably could play either side of the ball. He needs to build his body up, and he really needs to be more disciplined. He needs to get coached a lot."
There are mixed reviews of Maine South stalwart Victor Nelson. The offensive lineman, listed at 6'-7", 310 pounds, is athletic for his size, but some question his aggressiveness. Taylor feels those issues can be resolved.
"He's so dang big, he's kind of always lunging and reaching trying to block kids. He can block guys just by using his arms to push guys out of the way. I think once he learns to bend his knees and use correct footwork, he's a Big 10 player.
"I don't think he's a tackle unless he's a frontside guy that can knock people off the ball because he's a big mountain. He's not 6'-7", but his thickness is a monster.
"Once he grows into his body and rearranges things, who knows what his body will look like in the end. Right now, he has fairly good feet. But he doesn't use a lot of technique because he doesn't have to."
Providence Catholic in New Lennox boasts two fine prospects.
"Dan Lembke is pretty good. He's a Division I kid. They play him at left tackle. He's another one that's just developing. He's got to be a little more of a knee-bender, but he's got a chance to really be good.
"But their best lineman is another Ward, (former Illini) Brian Ward's son. He's a sophomore, and he'll be better than the one at Northwestern (Pat). Brian has nothing against Illinois, he just allows his kids to pick their own schools. They're very academic oriented."
Obviously, Taylor keeps track of sons of former teammates at Illinois. He likes Tim McAvoy's twin sons in Bloomington.
"They're both really raw, but they both have a chance to be pretty good. Kyle's bigger, thicker, but he needs more work on his feet. And then Luke is a little lighter and needs to get a little more lead in his rear end. He doesn't have bad feet.
"Both of those guys are Big 10 players. But what will happen is probably what happened with Tim (Junior). Guys will come in on them late because they're gonna develop late as blockers. It's gonna depend on how much they work in the weight room and how their bodies develop. But they both have a chance. Tim went to Michigan because Illinois didn't recruit him for some time."
"A kid who is really starting to grow on me is Matt Frazier at (Kankakee) Bishop McNamara. I saw him at the US Army Combine. He's gotten a lot bigger and is looking like an offensive guard or center now. He was about 6'-2 and 1/2, 265-270. He moves fairly well. If they had picked the top five linemen, he would have been the starting center.
"I love Patrick Flavin, but he's kind of flat-footed. They say he's a good athlete, but I don't quite see that yet. He's 215 pounds, 6'-6". I don't even know if he's gonna get to 270. He's a thin-shouldered kid. A really nice kid, but I don't know if he's a Division I guy."
There have not been an abundance of linebackers in the state for awhile, and Taylor is unsure whether that trend will change in the near term. The most highly rated linebacker is Naperville North's Nick Lifka, a 230 pounder.
"Lifka is the one the Sun-Times picked as the top player. To me though, he's probably gonna put his hand on the ground. Otherwise, he'd have to play on a defense where he could stay in the middle from tackle to tackle.
"There are some names of people at linebacker, but no one that stands out. There's a kid at Notre Dame who's a straight line guy that runs pretty well. There's a guy at Niles West. I haven't watched enough tape on him yet."
Off the top of his head, Taylor thought of three defensive backs with promise.
"There's a corner out of Joliet Catholic, Breion Tucker, who I like. And there's two kids at Robeson, the Pipkin brothers Juwane and Duwane."