DB's: The Illini's Most Athletic Position

The Fighting Illini defensive backfield has taken the brunt of numerous aerial assaults the last couple years and have not always responded well. They are more experienced now, and the athleticism is excellent. Now, all they have to do is make plays. If they play as a unit, improvements are possible.

It isn't the case at all positions for the Illini. Maybe not even most. But one glance into the team's defensive backfield is very similar to a glance at the team's running backs – the amount of talent back there is scary. How good will the secondary be? Who knows? But there won't be a group around that looks the part more than Illinois.

Consider, the best athlete on the team will man the field corner spot. Terry Hawthorne is so good, in fact, coaches agonized over whether to play him on offense, defense, special teams, or all three. No kidding – they considered all three before settling on cornerback, kick returner and punt returner for now. With a year under his belt, the sky is the limit for how good the 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore can be.

Opposite him, the boundary corner is manned by another physical specimen, 6-foot, 205-pound junior Tavon Wilson. Wilson isn't the electrifying athlete Hawthorne is – who is – but he is strong, tough and finally very experienced.

Those two will be backed up by speedy sophomore Pat Nixon-Youman and, hopefully, by twice injured junior Miami Thomas who, when healthy, is the best natural cover guy on the team. Sophomore Joelil Thrash, 6-foot, 200, is another fabulous athlete who will alternate between corner and free safety.

Speaking of athletes, the expected starting strong safety – junior Supo Sanni – has NFL body written all over him. He is 6-3, 220 pounds and can run. He needs to turn that into play-making ability to hold off junior college transfer Trulon Henry, the brother of former Illini star Arrelious Benn.

Also speaking of safety, this could finally be the breakout season for senior Travon Bellamy, who had a terrific freshman season, but who has struggled with injuries and his overall play ever since. And although question marks still remain about the eligibility of sophomore Walt Aikens, he is expected to play at some point this season and to push, and possibly pass, Bellamy.

"It's taken awhile, but we've finally developed some depth back there," Coach Ron Zook said. "Just time for them, like all of us, to make plays."

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