The Illini lost another key offensive weapon to an ACL tear during practice last week.
Head coach Tim Beckman reported after Saturday's spring game that running back Dre Brown, an incoming freshman from DeKalb who enrolled early as one of the program's top recruits, tore his ACL and will miss an extended period of time.
"He has an ACL," Beckman said. "We found out (Friday) night at about 5:30. Tough one for that young man because it was a non-contact practice, it was a non-contact play that it occurred on. He came back and practiced even more, a couple more plays and it wasn't fazing him. But we felt, when we came back the next morning it was a little bit swollen, so we're going to be precautionary and take and do MRIs if we feel that is necessary. And it was necessary, and it came back that it was an ACL. No MCL, no cartilage. Just the ACL."
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The injury to Brown follows up the torn ACL of soon-to-be-sophomore wide receiver Mike Dudek, the Illini's top pass-catcher from a year ago and one of the top receivers in the Big Ten. Like Dudek's injury, Brown's came on a non-contact drill in practice.
Brown was expected to be the No. 2 running back behind starter Josh Ferguson. Brown was a three-star recruit out of DeKalb, one of the more exciting names on Illinois' Class of 2015 commitment list.
Beckman said that Brown's recovery could be shorter than the typical time it takes to return from an ACL injury because the damage was minimal elsewhere in his knee. He said the same thing about Dudek's injury, estimating that the wideout could return to action by October.
"That hasn't been determined, the exact amount of time, but an ACL is usually six months," Beckman said. "But because this wasn't as damaging as some of the other ACLs that occurred earlier in the season — although Dudek's, we hope that it won't be quite six months."
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As for who will take Brown's place on the depth chart behind Ferguson, that's also yet to be determined. Beckman mentioned transfer Henry Enyenihi, who rushed for 92 yards in Saturday's spring game, and also alluded to incoming freshmen Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Reggie Corbin. Vaughn, a four-star prospect out of Tennessee, was the Illini's highest-ranked recruit in the incoming class. It's possible he could make some noise as a freshman.
"We've got two young men coming in, and we're very excited about those two young men coming in, which builds a little bit more depth," Beckman said. "But you've got Henry Enyenihi, who I thought did an outstanding job (Saturday). ... Of course, Kendrick Foster, who's been with us, will be another one that will compete."
Regardless of who takes over behind Ferguson, the Illini are in a serious offensive hole to start the season with two players expected to make big-time contributions sidelined.