Benn’s seeing orange with his Nike contacts

By Wes Anderson

As Arrelious Benn removed his helmet and strolled off the field following Monday’s practice, something about the phenom wide receiver looked very strange – almost non-human – as he spoke with reporters.

After a moment, it became clear: His eyes were orange.

Benn isn’t suffering from some freak eye condition. He is among many athletes in college and the pros who wear Nike’s MaxSight contact lenses, an invention developed to replace sunglasses or helmet visors in several sports.

For football and baseball players, amber-tinted lenses, designed by Bausch and Lomb, filter out ultraviolet light while increasing visual contrast making surroundings – and the ball – crisper, according to Nike. Glare-reducing green lenses, meant for golfers and tennis players, have also been released.

Despite their eccentric appearance, Benn gave the lenses a thumbs-up.

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“It makes everything more defined,” Benn said. “They’re like shades, to hide the sun if there’s a deep ball in the sky.”

As an added bonus, while wearing them, everything he sees is Illini orange.

Fulton’s search for perfection

Xavier Fulton was easily among the Illini’s most pleasant surprises of 2007. Initially recruited as a defensive tackle, Fulton was moved to the offensive line for his junior season after taking a medical redshirt in 2006.

The gamble paid off. Fulton started all 13 games of last season at left tackle, and the Illini offensive line allowed just 16 sacks, second in the Big Ten.

This season, however, the pressure has increased for the fifth-year senior. Without a solid answer at running back, Illinois is expected to lean more on the pass and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, who is expected to emerge as an offensive weapon.

As a result, Fulton will likely see more pass-blocking plays – with fewer blockers – than last year.

“It’s so hard to get (pass blocking) right, because you have to get everything just right to cover all your bases,” Fulton said.

However, Fulton joked that he isn’t too worried about losing Hoomanawanui’s support on the line in those situations.

“He’s usually gone anyway,” Fulton said. “He says he’s going to stay in, and sometimes he’ll leave anyway.”

Prediction time

Last season, Martez Wilson took an entire season to develop. Despite being a major standout in Ron Zook’s glittering 2006 recruiting class, Wilson was buried in the depth chart in 2007 and served mostly on special teams.

Now, he has his shot, and will start at weak-side linebacker against Missouri on Saturday. When asked if Wilson had any numbers in mind for Saturday’s game, he was quick to answer.

“Oh yeah. I plan at least – at least – two sacks this game,” Wilson said.

That number would equal his sack total from all of last season.

What about Benn, the star wideout who will suit up against the Tigers unencumbered by a shoulder harness for the first time since last October?

“Six-plus receptions, over 85 yards, and a touchdown,” Benn said at first.

Then, after contemplating, he quickly clarified his prediction.

“I know I’m going to get 100 (yards). I know what I’m doing now.”