Tony Adams is returning to Illinois in 2021, a big boost for the Illini and first-year head coach Bret Bielema.

Capable of playing safety or cornerback, Adams was very productive last year. In six games he had 51 tackles and an interception.

His return is big for Bielema, who in December replace Lovie Smith as the Illinois head coach. Illinois finished last season 2-6, a record that led to Smith’s dismissal.

The pass defense was a major weakness for the Illini this past year and Adams, despite a statistically solid year, still needs to prove himself as a gamechanger if he wants to play in the NFL.

Last season, the Illini were No. 8 in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed, giving up 237.1 yards per game.  They allowed a staggering 8.9 yards per pass attempt, worst in the Big Ten. They also allowed 18 passing touchdowns in 2020, second worst in the conference.

The return of Adams brings an experienced player back for Bielema’s backend. Adams has been a starter since 2017 when he had two starts in five appearances.

His best performances of last season came in the final two games of the schedule. Against Iowa in the season finale, Adams had 10 tackles in a 35-21 home loss. The week before in a road win at Nebraska, Adams had 13 tackles and added a Pick-6.