Finally, It Appears To Be 'Tez Time

When he took over as Defensive Coordinator, Vic Koenning modified the roles of the linebackers. But one thing remains the same. The linebacking corps and the whole defense need a healthy Martez Wilson on the field. This may finally be his year utilize his great athleticism.

Admit it, you've waited and waited. And waited and waited and waited. Like so many other Illini fans, you've really wanted to see what a healthy Martez Wilson really could do. With no inhibitions, in a good defense, with complete health and help around him. Now may finally be the time.

Wilson, coming off a neck injury that practically took his entire season a year ago, returns as a fourth year junior middle linebacker poised for a huge year. The 6-4, 250-pounder from Chicago Simeon is one of only two five-star recruits on the Illinois roster and seems ready to show he was worth it.

"Truth is, he probably could have been full go in the spring," Coach Ron Zook said. "But the doctors weren't taking any chances and I don't blame them. The right thing to do was hold him out of contact. But he is chomping at the bit now."

Wilson has all the ability in the world. He is a 400-pound bench presser, ridiculously fast for a man his size and has hunger. Finally, he also is comfortable at middle linebacker and with the defense. He will be joined at the other true linebacker position by undersized but tough junior Ian Thomas, possibly the Illini's best defender a year ago. The bad is that Thomas is 5-11, maybe 225 pounds. The good is he loves to hit.

"We were worried if Ian would hold up last year," linebackers coach Dan Disch said. "But he absolutely held up. That is one tough cat."

The good news, maybe the only good news, about Wilson missing the time he did, was increased playing time for now third year sophomore Evan Frierson, who became the team's middle linebacker. Now Frierson provides a very experienced backup to Tez. And junior college transfer Aaron Gress followed a decent finish in the fall with a terrific spring and will push Thomas for playing time as a senior.

The remaining spot in the linebacker corps is now referred to as a "nickel." Outsiders refer to it as a "hybrid" position with a guy that is a combination linebacker and defensive back. For now, the position is manned by a former linebacker, Nate Bussey, backed up by a former safety, Ashante Williams. Like the bandit position, the nickel will be coached by new coach Ron West, who has worked for years with coordinator Vic Koenning.

Still, the linebacking corps overall should be much improved because it is more experienced and for one main reason.

"Tez," Disch said. "We're just a different group with him in there."

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