Ryan Walters’ Illinois defense has a tall task ahead in 2022: replacing defensive back Kerby Joseph.

As a junior, Joseph was a first-team 2021 All-Big Ten selection.  Joseph was the only player in the country to combine for 5 interceptions and 3 fumble recoveries during the 2021 regular season, tying for the national lead in both categories. Joseph rounded out his stat line with 57 tackles and 2 pass breakups.

Joseph is now with the Detroit Lions after being selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, leaving big shoes to fill in the Illini secondary. Walters, entering his second season as the Illinois defensive coordinator, praised sixth-year senior Kendall Smith stepping up.

“Communication. There hasn’t been any mental errors. He does a great job of communicating with those guys,” Walters told the Illini Inquirer. “When he’s in position to make a play, he has made them. That’s what we’re looking for is someone that can go in there and consistently do their job. That’s what he’s been able to do to this point of camp.”

Last season, Smith played in 13 games, primarily on special teams, recording 13 tackles. He got the start at safety against Northwestern in the season finale.