Illinois football | Four-down territory

Apr. 19—With input from readers about the topics, here are some questions that are top of mind for beat writer Bob Asmussen going into Saturday's Illinois football spring game scrimmage at Memorial Stadium:

1. Can the Illini achieve some stability at the running back position? Will they be up for the physical challenge of the Big Ten?

It's a position that I'm worried about primarily because of injury. Last year, we seemed to get to the point where we were one step from having the water boy out there.

2. Is this the year we really get to see what Bret Bielema is capable of as Illinois coach?

The previous three seasons were a mishmash of players Lovie Smith recruited and ones Bielema brought in. The three high draft picks so far and the fourth, Johnny Newton, were all recruited by Smith and developed by Bielema. So we'll have to see.

3. Is there enough sizzle at wide receiver?

Pat Bryant could be primed to have a monster season. And Malik Elzy is ready for a breakout campaign. But departed Isaiah Williams is one of the best in school history and Casey Washington made clutch play after clutch play during his career. Are there talented replacements ready to step in? Could there be an answer in the transfer portal?

4. Is Donovan Leary ready to get on the field?

The quarterback has never taken a snap in a college game. That leaves Illinois vulnerable if starter Luke Altmyer gets banged up. A year ago, backup John Paddock came in for Altmyer at Minnesota and led a comeback win. Paddock had played before, starting during part of his time at Ball State. Now, there is no experienced backup to Altmyer. All eyes will be on Leary during the spring game.