At wide receiver, there was no surprise for the starters, but freshman Brad Ekwerekwu surpassed Chris Crosby and the other freshmen in camp to make the two-deep. Although much of the hype surrounded freshman Jason Ray, Ekwerekwu had a solid summer and didn't make many mistakes. Ekwerekwu also showed an uncanny ability to be near loose balls and showed relentless hustle all through camp.
Joe Gianino beat out Tony Palmer at guard, but it seems like both will get playing time. Gianino, the fastest offensive lineman on the team, who shared playing time with Palmer last season, appeared to be further along than Palmer at this point.
To nobody's surprise, Rob Droege, A.J. Ricker, Scott Paffrath and Cliff Young are the other starters on the offensive line. The second team offensive line could probably start for several good Division One programs, so the Tigers are stocked at this key position in 2003.
The hulking, yet agile Victor Sesay is nowhere to be found on the depth chart, with J.D. McCoy and Clint Matthews ahead of him at tight end. Sesay suffered a bruised bone in his knee in the middle of camp, and appeared to never quite catch up with the gameplan compared to McCoy and Matthews. It is, however, a long season and anything can happen. Sesay has still shown the most raw ability of the tight end group.
In the backfield, Zack Abron is the starter at running back and Brad Smith is the franchise starting quarterback. Damien Nash and Tyrone Roberson are listed as the second-team tailbacks behind Abron. Roberson had the best summer of all three, but Abron will most likely get the most of the snaps this season. With that said, look for Illinois to get a large dose of Damien Nash on Saturday in St. Louis.
On defense, the biggest surprise was that C.J. Mosley beat out senior Russ Bell at defensive tackle. Redshirt freshman Brian Smith and junior Zach Ville will start at defensive end, and Atiyyah Ellison is the other starting defensive tackle. Fabian Bean, who had a nice camp, will be one of the key defensive end reserves this season.
The key defensive backfield slots remained the same: James Kinney and Brandon Barnes easily won the spots at linebacker, and Calvin Washington and Michael Harden will start at cornerback. Jason Simpson and Dedrick Harrington are the starting outside safeties.
Nino Williams won one of the best competitions of the summer, beating out David Overstreet for the starting free safety spot. Pinkel still maintains both will get significant playing time. If one of the starting outside safeties falters, don't be surprised if Overstreet sees minutes concurrent to Williams. He may be too talented to keep off the field.
While Brock Harvey is set at punter, the kicker spot is still not set. Alex Petterson is still at the top, but Mike Matheny has been closing the gap.
Shirdonya Mitchell, the fastest player on the team, and Marcus James will return kickoffs. James and Omboga will return punts.
No mention was made of freshman running back Marcus Woods on the depth chart. Woods had an excellent camp and may still figure into some special teams role as return specialist if Mitchell, James or Omboga falter.