Scouting the Big 10: Illinois Fighting Illini

Oh how times have changed. It was just yesterday that Kurt Kittner their was leading the Fighting Illini into a BCS bowl game yet the team has been dismal the past two seasons. Coach Ron Turner needs a big season to save his job but just may have the talent to do so. Several solid late round picks from the senior class and one terrific junior with a lot of upside for the next level.

On offense the player to start with his quarterback John Beutjer.  A former transfer from Iowa, Beutjer was the Big 10's top passer in 2002 only to have his season cut short last year by injury.  Beutjer returns to college for his sixth  campaign hoping to lead Illinois to the bowl game and move his draft stock into the first day.  A technically sound passer with a good head for the position, Beutjer remains poised under pressure and stands in the pocket pocket, getting off the pass off even if it means taking a hit.  Mostly accurate in the short passing game, Beutjer possesses neither the deep arm or long accuracy one wants for an immobile pocket passer.  Possessing the frame to carry more bulk, Beutjer should be able to develop his arm strength as he physically matures and looks like a passer with solid long range potential.  Center Duke Preston is an explosive blocker that quickly gets off the ball and into defenders.  Competitive on the pivot, Preston plays with balance and controls defenders once engaged at the point of attack but lacks the dominant strength to finish blocks.  More of a small area blocker restricted to confined quarters, Preston is neither effective in motion nor shows the ability to slide laterally in space.

On defense middle linebacker Sinclair is a tough competitor, quick in his head and a defender who immediately keys or diagnoses the action.  Always willing to mix it up, he immediately locates the ball then flies around the action.  A marginal athlete, Sinclair is only good in a very small area and is a prototypical two down defender that has difficulty defending the pass.  The same cannot be said for Antonio Mason.  An athletic linebacker, Mason displays great sideline-to-sideline range as well as quickness and suddenness.  Excellent in pursuit, Mason also gets depth on pass drops and makes plays in every direction of the field.  A bit undersized, Mason lacks the top growth potential yet looks as though he'd be a solid weak side linebacker prospect at the next level.


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