WCIA — For the second year running, the Illinois defense will look to be the base in which the Illini can truly build from with Bret Bielema.

Strong defensive performances got the Illini upset wins over Minnesota and Penn State a season ago. Senior Sydney Brown missed practice Saturday, but defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said it is not something he’s worried about. The secondary will have to replace two starters this season, including Detroit Lions safety Kerby Joseph. Senior defensive back Kendall Smith could be one to look out for in the starting lineup.

“That makes your job and my job easier. When you got guys around you that you know they know what they’re doing that you know is on point, it just makes everybody more calm and we can just play better and play faster,” Smith said. “We’ve got a good understanding of where everybody’s role is going to be. Everybody knows their job. This is the second year of the defense we’ve been running so it’s really fluid right now.”

Smith played mostly special teams a season ago and was in the portal for a period in the offseason, before choosing to come back to Illinois.