Illinois Football 2011: The 7 Best Offensive Players on the Squad

Alex French@alex_frenchCorrespondent IJuly 12, 2011

Illinois Football 2011: The 7 Best Offensive Players on the Squad

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    2010 was a record-breaking season for the Fighting Illini, who set new offensive-highs in points scored (423) and points per game (32.5).

    The departure of All-American running back Mikel Leshoure bodes a difficult task in upholding the nation's 11th-ranked rushing attack, but with seven returning offensive starters, the Illini have plenty of talent to rely on this upcoming season.  

7. Tight End Evan Wilson

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    Although Illinois has two strong recruits in Matt LaCosse and Jon Davis at the tight end position for 2011, sophomore Evan Wilson should like his chances of starting next fall.

    According to offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, the incoming freshman aren't likely to be competing for a the starting role.

    "I don't think any of the young guys are ready to beat out Evan Wilson at tight end but that is what camp is for."

    Having started in 11 games last season, Wilson caught ten passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns.

    His athleticism and adept blocking ability add to an already difficult match-up for opposing defenders.

    Wilson finds himself amongst a young tight end core, but with the most experience of the crop, look for him to have a big year in 2011. 

6. Wide Reciever Darius Millines

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    Coming out of American Heritage High School, Darius Millines was ranked the nation's 66th-best wide receiver by and considered to have tremendous upside.

    Boasting a 4.42 40-yard dash and a 33 inch vertical, Millines poses as a serious deep threat for the Illini in 2010. 

    Although he only caught two passes for 42 yards and a touchdown last year, the Florida native emerged as a special teams star last fall returning 22 kicks for 430 yards. 

    Look for Millines to become more integrated into Petrino's offense in 2011 and become another top-target for quarterback Nathan Scheelhasse. 

5. Running Back Jason Ford

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    Paul Petrino believes that the running back position will create the highest level of competition for a starting role in camp this spring.

    With standout Mikel Leshoure leaving for the NFL, there are a number backs that could step into his place and fill the void.

    The most experienced remaining back the Illini have is Jason Ford, who was the teams third-leading rusher a season ago behind quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and NFL-departed Mikel Leshoure.

    On 99 attempts he rushed for 480 yards and seven touchdowns, with a long of 62.

    "Our strength is going to be our running game again," Petrino said.  "That's something we're always going to do well."

4. Place Kicker Derek Dimke

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    The numbers speak for themselves in regards to Derek Dimke's success as an Illini.

    In 2010, Dimke was a second-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and honorable mention by the media. 

    The Lou Groza award semifinalist hit 24-of-29 field goals this season, and went a perfect 43-of-43 extra points. His 115 points in 2010 rank him second all-time on Illinois season scoring list, led the Big Ten and ranked sixth nationally in field goals per game (1.85).

    He tied the Illinois single-season field goal record makes at 24 in 2010, and don't be surprised if he breaks his own record again in 2011.

    Dimke was recently named to the pre-season Lou Groza award watch-list.

3. Offensive Tackle Jeff Allen

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    When it comes to opposing defenses, Jeff Allen has faced just about everything there is to see.

    This three-year starter has protected two different quarterbacks during his collegiate tenure, lining-up against all-types of competition.

    Allen and offensive guard Jack Cornell not only have the most experience on the offensive line, but rank atop the whole offensive unit in that same category.

    The 6'4", 315 pound tackle was selected All-Big Ten second team by the media in 2010 and honorable mention by the the coaches.

    2011 could bode even more success for Allen as he recently was named to the preliminary, 65-man Outland Trophy watchlist, an award that honors the nation's top interior lineman.

2. Wide Receiver A.J. Jenkins

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    A.J. Jenkins has a knack for finding the endzone.

    The senior-to-be crossed the plane a team-leading seven times last season, and also led the Illini with 56 receptions for 746 yards.

    With an average of 4.51 receptions per game, Jenkins was sixth amongst Big Ten receivers and his efforts earned him a spot on the preseason Biletnikoff Award watch-list, which honors the nation's best receiver.

    "Our receivers will be a bigger strength for us this year than they were last year," said Petrino.

    Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase's favorite target in 2010 could find himself catching more passes, and touchdowns, this fall than he did a year ago.

1. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhasse

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    Offensive Coordinator Paul Petrino has high hopes for his sophomore quarterback in 2011.

    "I think he will run for 1,000 yards this year.  It all starts with the quarterback and what he can do best."

    What Scheelhaase can do best is move the chains, and poses as a strong dual-threat quarterback—one that teams in the Big Ten should be concerned about. 

    The fourth-team freshman All-American set new highs for Illini quarterbacks in 2010, rushing for 868 yards and passing for 1,825 through the air. 

    He also accounted for 22 total touchdowns and was named Big Ten Freshman of the week six different times last season.

    2011 could be a break-out year for Scheelhaase, especially considering he was recently named to the 65-man preliminary list for the Maxwell award, which honors the nation's top player.