Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
More than once in recent months, Illinois coach Ron Zook has called the defensive line the strength of his team.
Quarterback Juice Williams, wide receiver Rejus Benn and cornerback Vontae Davis might garner greater hype, but as a unit, the D-line rises above the rest. The Illini return starting ends Will Davis and Derek Walker, starting tackle David Lindquist and several others (Doug Pilcher, Josh Brent) with at least a pinch of game experience. The season-ending loss of tackle Sirod Williams will hurt, but it frees up opportunities for Brent and heralded freshman Corey Liuget.
Co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch expects to use a rotation of up to nine players up front.
"We're pretty deep there compared to our other positions," Disch said. "We've got some kids that have been around, that's the key. We're looking to them to get us through the first couple weeks."
First up is Saturday's season opener with Missouri (8:30 ET, ESPN), a team against which the Illini line looked anything but superlative last season. Quarterback Chase Daniel passed for 359 yards as Missouri outlasted Illinois 40-34.
Lindquist recorded one of two sacks against Daniel, but the Missouri star attempted 54 passes and proved too much for the Illini defense.
"He doesn't give up on the play, no matter what," Davis said of Daniel. "If it's a broken play, he's going to find a way to make something out of nothing. But at the same time, the defensive line and the defense in general, we bring more speed to this game than we did last year."
Davis, a converted tight end, leads the charge after recording 9.5 sacks last season. Walker enters his fourth season as the starter after leading the team in sacks in 2006.
Lindquist led the Big Ten in fumble recoveries (4) as a sophomore before starting every game last fall.
Another year of experience should help a group that watched Missouri score 37 points in the first two-and-a-half quarters last season.
"Last year, we were still trying to find each other as a team," Walker said. "We were confident, but we weren't sure. This year, we know we can be good. We know if we play how we're supposed to play, we'll be one of the best D-lines in the nation. We just have to go out there with that mind-set and prove it to people."
They get a chance to prove it right away.