Illini D-line shooting for record season

Published 08/15 2014 03:16PM

Updated 08/15 2014 06:35PM

RANTOUL, Ill. - Whitney Mercilus had one of the best seasons in Illinois football history just three years ago.  He was named the top defensive end in the country after breaking Big Ten and school records for forced fumbles and sacks.  Just two years later the entire Illinois defense struggled to match Mercilus' individual effort.  The Illini only managed 15 sacks last season - one less than what Mercilus tallied by himself in 2011.

"We obviously know that that has to be a part of our game that improves drastically this year and we're working hard on it," said defensive line coach Greg Colby.  "In fact, we're comparing ourselves to who was number one last year in the Big Ten and those are the numbers that we're shooting for."

Ohio State led the league with 42 sacks last season.  Illinois has never had that many; the school record is 41 set back in 2011.  Colby, who is in his second year coaching the Illinois defensive line, says his guys have to do better than the four sacks the line accounted for last year.

"I think we've got more speed and we've got more depth to do that so I'm real confident that we're going to better in that category," he said.

Junior college transfers Joe Fotu and Jihad Ward will add some much needed depth to a group that played several underclassmen last year.  Senior Austin Teitsma will start alongside juniors Teko Powell and Kenny Nelson.  Five to six players should factor into the rotation for the Illini.

"We just need to come out and execute our technique better and just get off the ball," said Powell.  "Get to the ball faster and be more physical on the front line."

Teitsma says it may be more of a mental change than a physical one.

"It's also just a mental attitude," he said.  "A relentless effort attitude and that's what we're having right now.  It's been awesome, we're having a phenomenal camp so I'm really excited to see what happens."

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