Illinois football is looking to build on its 3-9 record last season. Year two under head coach Lovie Smith will be challenging as he and his staff look to recruit and develop a quarterback capable of winning games in the Big Ten.
The Illinois football quarterback depth chart looks like this: Chayce Crouch. Jeff George Jr. Maybe transfer Dwayne Lawson. True freshman Cam Thomas likely redshirts. Senior Wes Lunt is graduating in May, leaving the Illini with what would be one of the Big Ten’s most inexperienced quarterback units entering 2017.
Lovie Smith was hired back in March of 2016, late in the process considering most coaching changes happen in November and December after the college football season is over. 2017 was always going to be a rough year for Lovie Smith and his Illini. Wes Lunt was a stable, calming quarterback who had a good arm and went through the fire as a transfer from Oklahoma State.
The dropoff in talent from 2016 to 2017 is significant. Losing Lunt and senior leader and defensive end menace Dawuane Smoot in the same year is hard to replace. Big Jarrod ‘Chunky’ Clements is another one of those seniors who will be playing in the NFL and was part of a disruptive defensive line last season.
Back to the quarterbacks. Chayce Crouch is a run-first, option signal caller who was extremely effective in Illinois’ only Big Ten road win last year against the 2-10 Rutgers Scarlet Knights. He hurt his shoulder towards the end of that game missing the rest of the season. Crouch had 32 pass attempts to 29 rushing attempts in 2016. A potential regular season starting quarterback, there are doubts as to whether or not Crouch can stand in the pocket and make accurate throws down the field.
— Jeremy Werner (@JWernerScout) February 14, 2017
Jeff George Jr started his first collegiate football game on the road at then No.3 ranked Michigan. He is more of a traditional pocket passer, but like Wes Lunt his mobility outside of the pocket is a major weakness and helps opposing defenses dictate the pace of the game. George Jr. played pretty well in Illinois’ home win over Michigan State last season, tossing two touchdown passes.
Essentially the Illini have a running quarterback who cannot throw, and a passing quarterback who cannot run. That does not mean either can’t improve and develop, and both will need to in order to have success this upcoming season. Committed transfer Dwayne Lawson has the ability to run and pass, but his status right now is up in the air and the Illini are still not 100% sure he will end up on campus.
Whoever the quarterback ends up being, that person will have a better supporting cast than Wes Lunt had last season. The Illini have better wide receivers on the depth chart and they have one of the country’s most underrated running back corps.
Michael Berns is Editor in Chief of Endzonescore.com. He also contributes to college football writing: particularly covering the Illinois Fighting Illini and all things BigTen. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter –@MichaelBerms.