Illini will play many freshmen in opener, but here are four to watch
BY STEVE GREENBERG Staff Reporter August 27, 2013 9:40PM
Jonathan Miano/Staff Photographer/Sun-Time Media West 20100720 Friday, Bolingbrook -- A portrait of Bolingbrook High School varsity football player Aaron Bailey at the Raiders stadium in Bolingbrook Friday.
Updated: August 28, 2013 11:02PM
If all goes according to plan — and it would be foolish to take it for granted that it will — Illinois should get to do a lot of healthy experimenting Saturday.
No offense to Southern Illinois, of course, but this sure is a good year for the extremely young Illini to be opening the season at home against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent. Tim Beckman and his staff will throw more freshmen onto the field than even the most ardent Illini fans can possibly recognize.
Actually, they’ll do that regardless of score. Considering their roster, they don’t have much choice.
“The only way a player is going to get better is to [appear] in a game situation,” Beckman said. “You’re going to see freshmen out there playing on Saturday. That’s just how we’re going to become a better football team.”
In order, the four freshmen we’re most looking forward to seeing in action against the Salukis:
QB Aaron Bailey: He’s third on the depth chart, but don’t be surprised if he gets onto the field ahead of No. 2 quarterback Reilly O’Toole. First-year coordinator Bill Cubit has designed a package of plays specifically for Bailey — likely run-based, though the ex-Bolingbrook star has an explosive arm — and might start rolling them out before halftime.
CB Darius Mosely: Physically, he might be the most impressive newcomer on the defensive side of the ball. Mosely is the No. 1 nickel back, with a chance to play his way into a starting role on the outside.
FS Taylor Barton: The only player on this list who was in the program a year ago, Barton fought off the competition throughout spring ball and training camp and will start his first game as an Illini. That redshirt season did him some good.
LEO D.J. Smoot: He’s No. 3 on the depth chart at this hybrid end/linebacker position, but Smoot had everyone buzzing toward the end of training camp with his ability to get after the passer. Coordinator Tim Banks is prepared to put Smoot out there along with starting LEO Houston Bates.
“Those guys force us to put packages together,” Banks said. “You’re trying to put your best players on the field. We’ll find a spot for him.”