Michael Buchanan played defensive end last year as a true freshman and saw playing time on third and long where he could use his pass rush ability. This year, he is competing at the Bandit position and learning new skills.
"Last year I was pretty much hand in the ground rushing the quarterback, but now I've got pass coverage responsibilities. It's a big learning curve."
Hopefully, the Bandit will be as difficult for opposing offenses to predict as it is to explain.
"When I think of the bandit I think of a hybrid linebacker," Buchanan says. "Sometimes I line up standing up, and sometimes I have my hand in the ground.
"I think this position fits me more because I'm not the biggest defensive end. I'm about 230 right now. I'm trying to get up ten more pounds."
Versatility is essential for a Bandit. Fortunately, Buchanan has multiple skills. He likes the potential of the role.
"It gives me an opportunity to run around more and play in space. From the Bandit position, you can make a lot of plays. You have to be real versatile. You have to know how to cover receivers and rush the passer."
The 6'-5" Homewood-Flossmoor product played defensive end and linebacker both in high school. Did that make his transition to Bandit easier?
"Yeah, it makes it easier, but playing linebacker in college is a big difference. In high school I pretty much played middle and go to the hole. Now I have to cover people and get to the flat. It helped out, but it's a big difference."
Buchanan feels his experience last fall has helped him this spring.
"It definitely added to my confidence. I played in spots last year, but getting on the field and seeing what it's like helped me get a feel for things. I wouldn't be playing with as much confidence had I redshirted last year."
Buchanan likes the new defense. It is more aggressive with more blitz packages. He thinks highly of Koenning.
"Coach Koenning is pretty intense. He's a real good coach."
He also likes his new outside linebacker coach Ron West.
"Coach West is a real good coach. He coaches all his players hard. He's intense and makes sure we know what we're doing on every play no matter what our man does to us."
Ever the perfectionist, Koenning praised Buchanan while also lamenting a mistake after a spring practice.
"He's got a lot of ability. He can really be a dynamic player. He's got to keep pressing to be that. We lost contain in two-minute drill when the intent was to put him out wide and John Daly it, tee it high and let it fly. He didn't do it. We have to teach it."
Illinois head coach Ron Zook said he feels Buchanan is capable of handling the unique position.
"He's doing good. There's not a lot of difference for him other than the drop on occasion. He can still rush the passer. You saw him come around the corner a couple times. He's gonna continue to improve."
Buchanan's description of the Illini defense as it presently exists fits him as well.
"We're still putting in new stuff and learning a lot of plays. We're learning our assignments on everything. We've still got a lot of growing to do. We're nowhere near our peak yet."