Illinois Fighting Illini WR Ryan Lankford was the team’s most improved player this spring practice session. But he didn’t have a catch on Saturday in the big 33-15 win over Arkansas State. Someone preferably Lankford needs to become Illinois’ third option.
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw for a career-best 267 yards. His 16 completions went to A.J. Jenkins, who had 11 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown, and Darius Millines, who caught five balls for 119 yards and a score.
Considering the passing game was one of the biggest question marks heading into the season, this is a very welcome development. However, more than two players need to catch the ball.
Jenkins, who had 746 yards and 7 TDs last season, made the Biletnikoff watch list; he’s the #1. Millines, who had a big catch in the Texas Bowl established himself on Saturday as the #2. And Lankford who also had a huge 52 yard reception also in the big postseason win over Baylor, needs to become #3.
There isn’t much experience in the receving corps, as Lankford and Millines combined for just 8 catches, 171 yards in 2010. So that probably doesn’t help Illini fans sleep much at night. However, no one benefited more from the 15 extra practices a bowl game gets you than these two receivers, and no one made bigger strides than Lankford in the spring.
“He plays tough and has never come out of a game for being hurt, so that’s something you want in a receiver, especially when they’re 170 or so. They got to be tough, they have no other choice because they’re going to feel those hits,” Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase said of Lankford.
Ryan is skinny and small, but he’s also a fleet-footed 3-star recruit out of Jacksonville (like Jenkins). Illinois has been tapping all the speed resources in the most fertile recruiting state to fill their skill position needs.
“If you look at Coach Petrino’s receivers that he’s had, it’s been the guys who made other guys better. At Arkansas, he had a bunch of guys that any of them could come out and be the highlight receiver that day, and that’s what we need,” Scheelhaase continued.
“With A.J. and Darius being hurt, and a couple other guys being hurt, it was time for everyone to step up and try to make their position in the offense,” Lankford said about his springtime emergence.
“Everyone came and watched extra film, did the things they needed to do to become a better individual player. Just me being here a whole ‘nother year has really helped out.”
For more on Illinois rushing attack issues go here.
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