I guess the blame for Ron Zook’s disappointing last two seasons have finally fell upon Juice Williams. He said today that he is going to bench Williams in favor of junior quarterback, Eddie McGee. Williams was the taste of the town two seasons ago when he upset Ohio State in the Shoe and lead his team to a Rose Bowl bid. It has been a rocky road since then and now the senior has found himself on the bench. What is next for Juice Williams? Could the NFL be in his future?
In 2005, Isiah “Juice” Williams, was one of the top quarterback recruits in the nation. He played for Chicago Vocational Career Academy and chose to stay close to home and play in-state at Illinois. A lot of the successful college quarterbacks at that time were Vince Young, Troy Smith, and you could even add Marcus Vick in that discussion. They all fell in the same category as a duel-threat quarterback that can use his legs to move to the ball. Since that time, Vince Young has fluttered in the NFL, Troy Smith has barely sniffed the ball for the Baltimore Ravens, and Vick (either one) has fell into legal problems off-the-field. It could be the paradigm-shift that has caused teams and colleges to stray away from those types of colleges, but Williams can’t blame anything except for his own ability.
A strong running game with Rashard Mendenhall helped Williams beat Ohio State and head into the Rose Bowl in 2007. When Mendenhall left for the NFL, Illinois became one-dimensional and had to rely on the passing game and Williams’ feet to move the ball. A series of injuries and suspensions have lead to a disappointing season in 2008 and at the beginning of this year. Arrelious Benn hasn’t been 100% this season and when you take away a target like that, the quarterback will suffer. Eddie McGee has shown that he is a better passer than Williams and also has some speed that could be useful, but Williams’ intangibles are still better. He has clearly been rattled by his lack of production and maybe sitting him down is the best for the team. I wouldn’t back a plan that would permanently bench Williams, he’s a weapon, try to get him into the game in a Wildcat type of play-set and you could benefit.
If you are looking toward the 2010 season, getting McGee into the game for some regular reps is a smart decision, but Zook can’t bet that he’ll be around for it. Zook has taken a lot of heat for putting together great recruiting classes, but not getting much out of them. If he does get fired after this season and I ran a major program, I would hire him as an assistant coach and only let him recruit. He has shown that he can recruit with the best of them, but his coaching ability is suspect to this point.
Do I think that Juice Williams can play in the NFL? Not right now, but if the Wildcat system catches on even more, he could be a nice undrafted free-agent signing. I could see him going up to Canada and trying his ability out up there. If he is a success, maybe he can catch on with a team has a 3rd string or practice squad player. This benching is bad news for Williams and his professional career, but he must remember this moment and keep working. You never know what can happen, Matt Cassel never even started a game in college and he’s a starter in the NFL.