CHAMPAIGN — Bobby Roundtree self-critiques his every move.

In film sessions, the Illinois junior defensive end sees the plays he made and the impact he made as a sophomore last season. He also sees what he left on the table, little things he could have done that would have changed moments in the game and added to his stat total.

For every one of his 7.5 sacks he had last season, he felt like one slipped away. By his estimation, he left seven or eight sacks on the field. He thinks he should have had 14 or 15 as a sophomore, which would have put him in the top 10 in the country.

Those missed opportunities have a way at gnawing at him.

“It’s kind of embarrassing," Roundtree said on Saturday at the fourth spring football practice. "I feel sick every time I see that I could have made a better play than I did."

There isn't any complacency in Roundtree, it's part of why defensive line coach Austin Clark likes Roundtree so much. There's a hunger that consistently drives him, which is derived by seeing players in the NFL, where he ultimately wants to end up.

“The type of guys we want in this program moving forward are guys who love football," Clark said. "We expect every one of our guys to be like that. That’s who Bobby Roundtree is."

In reality, Roundtree is probably being too harsh on himself. He's the engine on the defensive line, and that engine happens to reside at the defensive end position in a No. 97 jersey.

He's 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds and a nightmare for opposing offensive lineman to slow down. In some one-on-one drills during spring practices, he gets through backup lineman while hardly being impeded or thrown off of his path.

Clark has seen the ferocity with which Roundtree plays and the knack he has for being near the football. Finish the plays, Clark says, and by the time Roundtree looks up at the end of next season, those sacks and missed opportunities will turn in to a gaudy stat line.

“Really what I want to see him do is finish every play he has a chance to make," Clark said. "Ultimately, I think that’s a big thing for him is finishing when he gets there; whether that’s a sack, a tackle for a loss, punching the football out and taking it away — just finishing plays."

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Before last season even started, Roundtree stood on the practice field in training camp and proclaimed he wanted to double his stats from what was an eye-opening freshman season.

He nearly did that. He led the team with 12.5 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and seven passes broken up. Roundtree and Clark have focused in on schematics that could elevate his game to a higher level.

Still, Roundtree had the most prolific statistics on the defensive line last year.

“He’s a difference maker," Clark said. "Especially with a summer with (strength and conditioning coach) Lou (Hernandez) in our strength program, it’s going to be much better for him. He does a great job taking care of his body and he’s a student of the game. I love everything he does."

Entering year three, there's a difference about Rountree. He's started in 20 games and played in all 24 games of his career. He and the rest of this group of juniors were thrown into playing time nearly immediately.

"Bobby Roundtree has played outstanding football for a long period of time," head coach Lovie Smith said.

In those days, he leaned on former teammate James Crawford, who now plays for the Green Bay Packers. Last year, Roundtree looked to Jamal Milan for advice.

He didn't always embrace the advice and can admit that he's even still a bit stubborn, but he quickly figured out that if someone was coming to him with advice or a tip that they were doing it for a reason. Roundtree respected the veteran players for coming with him to help improve his game. Now he's that veteran dishing out advice to the deep group of younger defensive linemen.

“I’m more locked in," he said. "I’m trying to find little things to help my game improve a lot. I’m trying to bring the young guys with me, trying to be a mentor to some of the guys."

Those early years shaped Roundtree and helped him develop into the catalyst of the defensive front. He thinks the team is on the cusp of walking down a different path: One with fewer losses.

“I feel like we’re going to come out and compete better than the last few years we were here," he said. "We know the game more. I feel like we’re going to turn the program around."

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Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25


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