Illinois' secondary suddenly has become a primary concern.
After announcing that cornerback Terry Hawthorne will be out four to six weeks with a stress fracture in his right foot, Ron Zook and his staff were scrambling to reorganize their depleted defensive backfield.
Hawthorne, who also is a kickoff and punt returner, joins another projected starter, safety Supo Sanni, on the sidelines. Sanni, who tore his Achilles' tendon Wednesday, is out for the season.
The defensive backfield also will be without Walt Aikens, a starter at safety last season who had been working at safety and corner. Aikens, who had been on shaky ground after spending five days in jail over the summer for misdemeanor theft, was dismissed from Illinois on Aug. 20 after university officials turned down his appeal to remain in school.
Hawthorne, who returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown at Minnesota last year, could be back in time for Ilinois' Big Ten opener vs. Ohio State on Oct. 2.
To fill the voids, tailback Justin Green has moved to cornerback and receiver Steve Hull has moved to safety. Receiver Jack Ramsey also is working out with the secondary.
With the safety situation uncertain, veteran corner Tavon Wilson may move to safety, where he can be more of a steadying influence. Travon Bellamy, Miami Thomas and Pat NIxon-Youmans should be in the mix at cornerback.
The Hawthorne injury is especially big because the speedy sophomore, a Parade All-American receiver at East St. Louis, also is a dangerous returner.
``It bothered him a bit during camp, but he's such a tough kid, he never said anything. He kept going,'' Zook told reporters. ``You love him because he doesn't ever complain. But if he would have said anything, maybe we would have been able to get away with just giving him a few days off. But he'll be fine and we'll be fine.''