The 90 Illini - 30 ~ 26

Aug 11, 2017

We're in the 20's now and this list contains four sophomores and a freshman. I didn't intend for that to be the case when I made the rankings, it's just a function of this team. The youth will never not surprise me when I stumble upon it. We'll likely never have a team this young ever again.

30. Adam Solomon

Offensive Lineman
6'-4", 325 lbs.
Sophomore (on scholarship, 3 years to play 3)
Bishop Chatard High School / Indianapolis, Indiana

What I Know About Him

I know he's roommates with Gabe Megginson every camp and they tweet things like this every night. So if you want to give him a follow (and Gabe), well, just do it.

He's also a bit of a conundrum (which seems to be the case with every offensive lineman we've recruited the last 15 years) - is he a tackle or is he a guard? He's probably a right guard in a right tackle's body? It's just been so rare that we have clear tackles and guards. Right now he's a right tackle, but might he make a better right guard?

What I Expect From Him

This is where it's interesting to watch the true freshmen. Right now it seems like Larry Boyd has the inside track for right tackle (they want to get their best freshman on the field immediately), which would suggest that Solomon's best spot is a move to guard. But maybe he backs up Boyd at right tackle for one year and then Boyd moves to left tackle next year (after DiLauro graduates) with Solomon starting at right tackle?

This will probably be something we see play out over the next three seasons, not just this one. Beckman and Cubit recruited linemen to be X. Lovie is recruiting linemen to be Z, but most of them are too young to play just yet. They have to find some kind of "Y" mix until Lovie has the whole OL roster looking like he wants it to look.

29. Kenyon Jackson

Defensive Tackle
6'-0", 290 lbs.
Sophomore (on scholarship, 4 years to play 3)
Parkview High School / Little Rock, Arkansas

What I Know About Him

I know I wish we would have landed his brother (he picked Arkansas). You know I love the children of NFL players, and Jackson (son of NFL perennial Pro Bowler Keith Jackson) has that pedigree. His brother was an ATH recruit and I think he's going to be awesome at Arkansas.

Jackson surprised many by pushing his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman last year. When I saw Joe Spencer this spring and asked him about the defensive linemen he lined up across from, he pointed to Jackson as the guy who was "so quick" that it made him very difficult to block.

What I Expect From Him

Defensive tackle is going to be very interesting to watch over the next few years. Mid-season last year Lovie moved away from Clements and Bain and started Jackson and Jamal Milan. This camp, sophomore Tymir Oliver has been the breakout player. And Tito Odenigbo is there as well (and only a junior). PLUS Lovie just got his first class on campus, so Kendrick Green, Jamal Woods, and Deon Pate are just now making noise about wanting to be in the rotation. (And Calvin Avery arrives next year and might start as a true freshman.)

What do you do with all of that? Well, it's a nice problem to have. It's the "problem" we should have at every position. The more competition for every spot, the better the team. And when you see that, you see players fitting into certain roles like "third down pass rushing specialist from the defensive tackle position". I'm not sure what Jackson's role will be in that just yet (change-of-pace shorter, quicker defensive tackle to throw things off for the offense?), but he's certain to be in the rotation.

28. Blake Hayes

6'-6", 230 lbs.
Freshman (on scholarship, 5 years to play 4)
Brighton Secondary School / Melbourne, Australia

What I Know About Him

What I know about him all comes from this interview that I did with him on media day. So I'll skip this section and just ask that you go listen to that.

What I Expect From Him

The first three Blake Hayes punts I watched last week were 50, 55, and 57 yards (and that's true punt distance - they actually traveled 65-70 yards in the air). Yes, they were a little bit wind-aided but I saw enough in those three punts to not need to watch any more punting drills the rest of camp. This kid can do it. Starting punter.

The struggle will be "football". He has to learn the sport. Like, everything about it. When you fumble the snap and you're standing in your own endzone, make sure the ball goes out of bounds because a safety is better than the opponent getting a touchdown. Say he's the holder on an extra point and it gets blocked - does he know what to do next? It's like you or me moving to Australia to play Aussie rules football and having to learn what happens in every scenario of the game (while everyone you're playing with knows every single detail from birth).

27. Dele Harding

6'-1", 235 lbs.
Sophomore (on scholarship, 4 years to play 3)
Eastern Christian High School / Elkton, Maryland

What I Know About Him

Harding was committed to Michigan for a year before decommitting when their coaches stopped calling as much. Which is what coaches do when they have their eyes on another linebacker. So Harding opened it back up and ended up committing to Bill Cubit and Illinois. And then, a month later, Lovie Smith became his head coach.

He played a fair bit last season, even starting a few games at Sam Linebacker. He had a bit of a breakout game against Michigan State (seven tackles) but then an injury ended his season and he missed the rest of the year. He also missed spring ball but is back healthy now.

What I Expect From Him

He's been working mostly at Mike linebacker at camp. It has been Jake Hansen at WLB with Del'Shawn Phillips backing him up, Tre Watson at MLB with Harding behind, and Julian Jones backed up by Justice Williams at SLB. I believe all six will play.

In a perfect world, Harding would have redshirted last year, played two years as the understudy at Mike, and then two years as the starter. This isn't a perfect world, so it was one year at Sam, now one year learning Mike, lots of special teams, and then hopefully a starting spot soon. I'm a big Harding fan (which is why I'm putting him up here at #27).

26. Griffin Palmer

Tight End
6'-5", 230 lbs.
Redshirt Freshman (on scholarship, 4 years to play 4)
DeSmet High School / St. Charles, Missouri

What I Know About Him

Tim Beckman's staff was very "immediately turn to Plan B" when it comes to recruiting. Eric Eshoo picked Northwestern over Illinois on some June afternoon, and by early evening Palmer had flipped from Miami Ohio to Illinois. Eshoo to the NUrds meant Palmer had a committable Big Ten offer and he snatched it up.

Palmer's father was a tight end at Iowa, so he had always wanted to play in the Big Ten. He had taken the Miami Ohio offer when he had no Big Ten offers, but the offer from Illinois was impossible to pass up. The goal from the beginning: play tight end in the Big Ten like his dad.

What I Expect From Him

He was one of the more pleasant surprises in the spring. Last summer at camp he was a very skinny and tall athlete. Now he's filled out a bit, doubled the size of his arms, and doesn't get so lost in blocking drills. Significant improvement over the last year.

Which we need because we graduated the three tight ends who played last year and will be turning to the freshmen for help. AND, his classmate Andrew Trainer just moved from TE to OT, so they're even more confident that the younger guys can handle it. Blocking will be the thing - he'll have to prove he can block if he wants to play - but I think he's heavily in the rotation at tight end, maybe even starting some games.


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