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Illinois clears Brent to play; Dufrene questionable

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois has cleared defensive tackle Josh Brent to play this fall, providing a big boost to a defensive line that loses three starters.

Brent served time in jail earlier this summer after pleading guilty June 2 to drunken driving. He was released early after receiving credit for time served and returned to work out with the team in July.

A 6-foot-2, 315-pound junior who started eight games last fall, Brent participated in training camp but wasn't cleared to play until Tuesday morning.

"It was something that we spent a lot of time and energy in discussions with Josh," Illinois head coach Ron Zook said Tuesday on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "He made a terrible mistake, he owned up to it, he was severely punished, never complained and he's been a model citizen ever since. I've been very, very pleased with the way he's responded.

"He could have responded in a negative manner. He hasn't. He's done everything both off the field and on the field that we've asked, so we felt he deserved the opportunity to come back and learn from his mistake."

Last season, Brent recorded 34 tackles, including 8.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks. He'll form arguably the Big Ten's best tandem of defensive tackles with sophomore Corey Liuget.

Illinois opens the season Saturday against Missouri in St. Louis (ESPN, 3:40 p.m. ET).

  • Zook said senior running back Daniel Dufrene will practice Tuesday after missing the last few days with a sprained ankle sustained Thursday. "They got a special fitted brace for him," Zook said, "and hopefully he can get out there and help us." If Dufrene can't play Saturday, sophomores Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure will receive the bulk of the carries. Ford led Illinois with eight rushing touchdowns last fall, while LeShoure added 126 rush yards and a touchdown on 35 carries.