There are a couple reasons many people believe the Illini will take a step back this season. The first is obvious; Rashard Mendenhall. Don't get me wrong, I completely understand that argument. Then there's the other "obstacle"; replacing fan favorite J. Leman.
Leman brought back the prestige that once reigned over the linebacking core at the University of Illinois. Last season he became a household name by averaging 10.36 tackles per game, which ranked 21st in the entire nation and 3rd in the Big Ten
He was named first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association, and All-Big Ten by media members and the league's coaches.
Those are some rather big shoes to fill.
No need to worry however, a linebacker by the name of Brit Miller is ready to make a name for himself this season.
Former strong-side linebacker, Brit Miller, who is a 6'1'', 240-pound senior out of Decatur, Illinois, has replaced him in the middle, and will be the vocal leader of this year's Illinois defense.
Last season, Brit vastly improved with his play, recording 63 tackles.
This senior strives in situations where he can make his leadership presence known. He was a three-year starter on the outside, and knows the defense inside and out better than any player on the field.
Miller is a much faster and at times a more aggressive linebacker, which will come in handy against many tough offensive foes this season. Lining up beside Miller are Martez Wilson and Rodney Pitman, who may be the most athletic duo in the Big Ten.
Illinois was one of the better teams in the Big Ten at creating turnovers and absolutely suffocating against the run. With backs like P.J. Hill and Beanie Wells in the Big Ten, the faster the linebacker the better the results.
Miller, Wilson and Pitman fit the bill perfectly.
But where the defense is great up the middle, the problem rests in the secondary.
There were countless passes thrown into the secondary over the middle that were way too frequent. The bigger question is will the Illini be able to replace the likes of Justin Harrison and Kevin Mitchell.
A man by the name of, Donsay Hardeman, who was well known in high school for knocking his own players out during practice, should be a huge lift. Hardeman is a JUCO transfer out of Florida who was highly recruited. Also, helping at safety is Travon Bellamy, who has moved from cornerback, and has looked very impressive at the camp in Rantoul, IL.
Not to mention Preseason All-American, Vontae Davis, who is patrolling the secondary at CB, which only helps the Illini's weak spot on defense.
Replacing Leman will be easier than you think, while replacing starters Mitchell and Harrison will be a problem.
With the way camps have gone in Rantoul, it's a good problem to have.
Competing for those positions only helps players in the long run.