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Illini 'Star' Eric Finney's knee not as bad as feared

It took a couple of days of anxious waiting, but Illinois football fans can breathe a sigh of relief: Junior-college transfer Eric Finney, a projected started on defense, does not have a major knee injury.

Finney, a sophomore, was carted off the field with an injury on Wednesday, the third day of training camp. Previously listed as the Illini’s starter at the “Star” position — a linebacker-safety hybrid — Finney had arthroscopic surgery performed on his knee on Thursday. Redshirt freshman B.J. Bello moved in with the first team and seems likely to stay there while Finney recuperates.

According to coach Tim Beckman, there’s a chance Finney could be on the field for the Aug. 31 opener vs. Southern Illinois.

“It’s going to be close. It’s probably going to be cutting that real close, but he’ll keep progressing,” Beckman said Friday. “He’s on crutches now. By the beginning of next week, maybe Tuesday-ish, he’ll be off the crutches.”

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks referred earlier in the week to the “five new starters” who’ll make up Illinois’ secondary. Whether or not Finney fills the “Star” role — and whether or not you count it as a secondary spot rather than a linebacker role —an Illini program early in the stages of improving its depth will be tested on the back end.