Illinois Football: Spring Practice Linebacker Depth Chart Breakdown

The Illinois football defense wasn’t the main reason the team only had three wins in 2016.

But, this group has some young talent on the backend that still needed to get used to the power five conference level of football.

Despite some mishaps at times, the defense actually was pretty solid last season.  That had a lot to do with the defensive line and linebackers, though.

I have already gone over the defensive line depth chart heading into spring practice, and now here is the linebacker depth chart.

Starter: SLB Julian Jones

Julian Jones didn’t come into the 2016 season as the starting strong-side linebacker.  He had to wait a little while before he could see some starting action.

Jones played in 11 games last season and had four starts.  In the time he did play he did well too.  He had 32 tackles and two tackles for loss.

I expect Jones to have a big year.  He is only a junior and his athletic ability should make him one of the best in the Big Ten.

Backup: Justice Williams

Last season, Justice Williams made one start in the 12 games he had a chance to play in.  He was a solid player that adds depth to this program and he is only a sophomore as well.

Starter: ILB Del’Shawn Phillips

The middle linebacker role was left wide open when Hardy Nickerson finished up his lone season in orange and blue.  Lovie had a plan, though.

Lovie snagged talented junior college linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips to man the middle of this defense.  He will really help boost this linebacker core this season.

In Phillips final season as a JUCO player he recorded 52 tackles, two sacks, three interceptions, and a fumble recovery.  I am excited to see what he can do with the Illini.

Backup: Dele’ Harding

Dele’ Harding had a decent freshman campaign at linebacker.  He had a chance to see the field as he played in nine games for the Illini.

Harding will be looked at as a stabilizing force at linebacker.  He brings youth and depth to the position and that is crucial in sustaining success.

Starter: WLB Tre Watson

The only linebacker to really make a massive impact last season was Tre Watson.  He returns for his junior campaign looking to be an All-Big Ten caliber of player.

Last season, Watson earned All-Big Ten honorable mention while playing in all 12 games and starting eight of those contests.

Watson needs to be a great player this season for the Illini.  They are going to rely on him to not only rush the quarterback but to also drop back in coverage.  I can’t wait to see what he can do this year.

Backup: Jake Hansen

Jake Hansen will be the primary backup to Watson heading into spring practice.  He is a solid backup with plenty of experience.

Last season, Hansen received playing time in all 12 games and also received one start at linebacker.  Illinois will need him to spell some minutes for Watson throughout the season.

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