CARBONDALE — Call Illinois defensive end Tim Kynard the veteran on the defensive line today — for SIU and the Fighting Illini.
Kynard (pronounced KUH-nard), one of only two seniors on Illinois’ two-deep today, has six career starts. That’s six more than junior nose tackle Jake Howe and junior defensive tackle Austin Teitsma, and six more than anyone the Salukis expect to start up front when SIU takes on Illinois at Memorial Stadium.
SIU lost all three seniors from its dominating defensive line, which produced three of its top eight tacklers last year.
Sophomore Adam Brandt, a 6-foot-4, 254-pound defensive end expected to make his first career start today, looked forward to the spotlight after playing in all 11 games last year behind Ken Boatright.
“Obviously, we had to fill in some new spots, but it came along well. We’re getting everything going and we’re all in,” Brandt said. “The guys are ready to go. You gotta fill some big shoes, and we gotta fill them.”
Junior college transfer Kitray Solomon and sophomore T.J. Beelen are expected to start alongside Brandt at end and nose tackle, respectively, in the key to coach Dale Lennon’s 3-4 defense. Junior defensive end Blake Miller, who has one career start in 20 previous games, has been slowed by a high ankle sprain but could start in Solomon’s spot.
The good thing about the Salukis’ inexperience is that the group may make up for it with pure numbers.
Backups Raysean Golden, a junior college transfer nose tackle, Brandon Williams and former basketball player Calvin Belts have all caught Lennon’s attention this fall.
“I think Raysean Golden has been a very good addition at the nose guard position. Kitray Solomon reminds me a lot of Eze Obiora, he has that type of speed and quickness, and then you put Brandon Williams and Adam Brandt in there,” Lennon said. “Those guys are pretty impressive, and then Calvin Belts has stepped up. He has knocked down more passes this pre-fall than anybody on the front.”
SIU has to replace 15.5 sacks from the defensive line and 26 overall from last year. Outside linebacker Tyler Williamson had the most sacks, 4.5, of anyone back on defense.
Illinois returns three starters on its offensive line but allowed 39 sacks last year, which ranked the Illini 111th in the country out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
Howe and Teitsma are expected to make their first career starts today for Illinois against a re-tooled offensive line.
Three starters are back for SIU, but sophomore left tackle Ethan Wirth was questionable for the game at the start of the week. Wirth has been slowed by a shoulder injury that kept him out of full practices last week. Junior Corey Boemer is expected to take his place if he can’t go.
Either way, Illinois coach Tim Beckman is expecting a better Saluki offense than the one that started last year by scoring 14 or less points in three of their first five games.
“Their offense does a great job and I’ve seen them mature as their season went on,” Beckman said. “We’ll have two inside guys, Jake Howe and Austin Teitsma, that will be making their first starts. We know that it’s definitely a challenge but they have played football before. We know they’re going to mature as the season progresses. We know it will be a challenge, and the likes that SIU has on their offensive line.”
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