If there is one thing that is abundantly clear from the start, this year's Illini team should have no problem scoring points, although their workhorse tailback of last season, Mikel Leshoure, opted to turn pro and forego his senior season. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase returns to lead the offense, and after throwing for nearly 2000 yards and running for almost 1000 more as a redshirt freshman last season, is poised to put up even better numbers this time around. While Scheelhaase has the signal calling locked up for the time being, he is being challenged in camp by freshman Reilly O'Toole, who has been having a good first two weeks and taking the majority of the backup snaps. But that doesn't mean that O'Toole will supplant the second string quarterback job from Miles Osei, who has a year of experience under his belt. At this time, there is no sense of burning O'Toole's redshirt just to get him on the field for a few plays. Would the unfortunate circumstance occur of Scheelhaase getting hurt, then you might look to getting O'Toole on the field.
With the loss of Leshoure, the Illini had few options at the running back spot returning, the only real possibility being Jason Ford. Ford came into training camp a few pounds over where Zook and the coaching staff wanted him, but still should see the bulk of the carries this season. However, two freshmen backs are making their case for playing time, as Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson are both having a great training camp and making the tailback position that much more competitive. The situation with Young and Ferguson has caused Bud Golden to leave the program, Golden being pushed down on the depth chart far enough below even Troy Pollard.
The receiving corps will be one of the Illini's strengths this season, as senior A. J. Jenkins leads a talented group of wideouts on the field. Scheelhaase will have plenty of options to throw to, led by sophomores Ryan Lankford and Darius Millines. Spencer Harris, another sophomore, has looked good early on, as has true freshman Jordan Frysinger. Clemson transfer Brandon Clear has also looked good early on, and may challenge Jenkins and some of the others for catches.
The tight end position in the past has been one that has not been utilized by Illini coaches, but since the arrival of offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, they have integrated the tight end into their offensive sets. Sophomore Evan Wilson leads a talented young group of ends that should catch their share of balls. True freshmen John Davis and Matt LaCosse are both showing promise early on in camp, and senior Zach Becker seems to be healed from his injury plagued career at Illinois. Between the tight ends and the wide receivers, Nate Scheelhaase has a lot of options at his disposal.
Part of a good offensive ground and air game is the job the men up front do, and the offensive line is another strength that the Illini will bring into this season. Center Graham Pocic returns, as does guards Jack Cornell and Hugh Thornton. Tackle Jeff Allen also returns for his senior season, and the only question mark on the line is the spot that injured tackle Corey Lewis occupies. In Lewis' absence are two young players, Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic, who will see action until Lewis returns, whenever that may be.
Up next week, a look at the defense, which has some question marks with the departure of two key players that decided to take their game to the next level a year early.