CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — While Lovie Smith may be refusing to produce an official 2020 depth chart, the Illinois fifth-year head coach was happy to confirm the final offensive line starting spot.
When asked about specific players who have stood out in this September version of training camp, Smith first mentioned first one of the two players vying for that open right guard position on the Illini offensive line.
“Offensively, Verdis Brown has done an outstanding job and has come a long ways,” Smith said. “Verdis is one of the most highly recruited players we’ve had here. He’s been behind the scenes for a while and we needed someone to step up at that position. So, I really like what he’s done.”
While the injury and fall labrum surgery of Wofford graduate transfer Blake Jersaty was obviously unwanted and untimely, Smith immediately created a nice statewide program billboard moment for big boys in orange and blue in the 2020 season.
“By Blake not being able to play right away, that’s an opportunity for someone,” Smith said. “We have the chance for an all-Illinois high school products offensive line.”
Brown was battling fellow sophomore Jordyn Slaughter to take over the role at right guard they were recruited more than three years ago to eventually overtake. Based off Smith’s comments during training camp, it appears to be Brown, a 2017 Under Armour All-America selection out of Chicago via IMG Academy in Florida, has emerged as the final projected starter on the Illini offensive line.
“We’ve been waiting for Verdis Brown to step up, a guy like Verdis Brown (and) Jordyn Slaughter. So we feel like we have some other players that can step in,” Smith said. “But we’ll miss Blake.”
While at IMG Academy, Brown developed into a four-star interior lineman prospect at arguably the nation’s best high school program but eventually turned down scholarship offers from power programs such as LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida State and Tennessee to sign with his home state program of Illinois.
The Illinois offensive line in this 2020 season is a group that features veterans such center Doug Kramer, left tackle Vederian Lowe, left guard Kendrick Green and right tackle Alex Palczewski. This quartet of talent survived out the low points of being thrown into a starting lineup as a freshman and sophomore and have totaled 125 combined starts leading to Pro Football Focus publishing the Illini as having the most experienced production returning from any five-man offensive line unit in the Big Ten Conference.
The Illini may need all that experience, savvy and talent as Wisconsin, currently ranked No. 14 in the latest Associated Press poll, returns a lot of its three-man defensive line front from last season but will transition some new pieces at linebacker.
“(Verdis Brown) has probably been the most consistent of the guys who were competing for the job,” Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith said Monday. “To me he’s really put himself in the best possible position