(Eds: APNewsNow. With AP Photos.)By DAVID MERCERAssociated Press
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - In 2012, Mason Monheim was forced to become a leader at linebacker for Illinois when an injury slowed Jonathan Brown.
Illinois' defense was bad in a 2-10 season, but Monheim was a standout. Now with a year of experience, he and Brown make up the strongest part of the Illini defense preparing for the Aug. 31 opener against Southern Illinois.
Brown says last season's struggle made the defense closer as a group.
Defensive coordinator Tim Banks says the two are without a doubt the heart of his defense.