Illini defense building trust with new coordinator Ryan Walters

Sports

CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — If experience is any indicator of success, the Illini should be in a position to improve this fall. Illinois returns 86 percent of its starts from last season on that side of the ball, led by All-Big Ten selections Jake Hansen (linebacker) and Owen Carney Jr. (defensive end), who moved to an outside linebacker this season in new coordinator Ryan Walters’ scheme.

It’s still unclear exactly how that will play out, Walters and Bielema have both said they want to play a “multiple” defense, but it’s expected to be rooted in a 3-4 look. Keeping an element of a surprise plays to the Illini’s advantage, don’t expect much to be revealed before the first game Aug. 28 when Nebraska rolls into Champaign. The one thing Walters did share during his first training camp media availability on Tuesday was his emphasis on trust between the players and staff.

“It’s something that we’ve really focused on from the start of it and we continue to build that camaraderie that when the bullets are live and we encounter some adversity, we can lean on the experiences that we’ve gone through the past eight months,” Walters said.

The Illini are coming off a 2-6 season where they allowed a Big Ten worst 467 yards per game. Only Michigan State (35.1 ppg) allowed more points per game, Illinois (34.9) was second just two-tenths behind. Walters job is to turn around the defense, a unit that’s only ranked in the top half of the country once in the last five years and that was Lovie Smith’s first season in Champaign in 2016 (61st). At Missouri, Walters accomplished that twice in the last three years, headlined by his 2019 group that finished 14th in the country in total defense.

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