Monday, July 18, 2011

Matt Chandik's Illinois Player to Watch

For a program that's been thoroughly mediocre and, at times, downright putrid for the better part of forever, Illinois has been able to produce NFL-caliber defensive backs with a fairly frequent amount of regularity like Vontae Davis, Kelvin Hayden, Eugene Wilson and others. The Illini are blessed with a pair of starting corners who look like they have a shot at playing in the NFL in Terry Hawthorne and our 2011 Illinois Breakout Player pick, Justin Green.

Green initially committed to Ohio State as a cornerback, but was lured to Champaign by Ron Zook with the allure of being a high-profile running back for the Illini. He toiled around as a running back during his freshman season and tallied 88 yards on 19 carries and added a pair of touchdowns. He also chipped in three receptions for 15 yards and three kick returns for 49 yards. Not great, but not terrible for a freshman.

With Illinois short on bodies and the 5-11, 190-pound Green blessed with good size for a cornerback, Zook asked Green to move to the defensive side of the ball where Green did well for an inexperienced player tasked with being a functional cornerback in a major Division I conference. Green made 55 tackles, including a half-tackle for loss, swatted away four passes and forced a fumble during a season where he was thrown into the fire because of an early-season injury to Hawthorne.

It wouldn't be surprising to see Green blossom into one of the Big 10's elite corners to give Illinois two very good corners. He'll need to step up as Illinois loses playmakers like Martez Wilson and Corey Liuget. He could fight for second-team All-Big 10 honors (with honorable mention being more likely) and I suspect he'll put up some good numbers since he's starting the whole year. 73 tackles, three picks, a forced fumble, two tackles for loss.

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