Ask N-G football beat writer Bob Asmussen about Tim Beckman's team.
Sorry everybody, I'm running a bit behind today. It's not because I was at practice today. It is closed to the media and fans and there will be no player availability for at least the next couple of days.
I'll stop delaying and start answering.
Will Justin Lattimore move up the depth chart this fall ?
It looks like it won't be easy for him. He's got Jon Davis, Matt LaCosse, Eddie Viliunas and Evan Wilson in front of him. They had four guys listed on the preseason depth chart and he wasn't one of them. That's not a good sign.
When he first came to Illinois, I thought he had a chance to become a very good player. I don't know what happened. Maybe the offenses haven't been right for him. This one is going to have to be tight end friendly.
How many players did Penn State finally lose before the season and what do you think the impact will be?
I believe the final count is 10 if we are just talking about players who would have been on this year's team. Several other recruits have dropped their commitment to join Penn State in 2013.
The impact will be felt the most on offense, where the top running back and receiver are gone. And so is the kicker/punter. That was another huge blow.
I think Penn State's defense will allow it to stay in games this season. But long term, the Nittany Lions are going to have a hard time winning three or four games in future seasons.
I am among those who think the Illini can surprise some people this year. With the new spread offense, are there plans to throw the ball down field more than we have the past couple of years? And is there word that Scheelhaase's arm strength has improved?
I think you will see Illinois go down the field some. But I think what you will see more of is quick passes, screens, slants, etc. to get the ball in the hands of the receivers and running backs.
I think Scheelhaase has a stronger arm than earlier in his career. The coaches say Miles Osei has the strongest arm on the team, but he isn't starting.
Honestly, I'm as curious about the Illinois offense as anyone. I don't think we saw a whole lot of the final plan during a week in Camp Rantoul. Everything felt very vanilla to me. I'm sure they are cranking up the plays now that practices have been closed.
Anyone get de-striped today?
Somebody gets destriped at every practice. But we weren't allowed in today, or the rest of the week, so we don't know who it was.
I will try to get an update on the destriping next time I talk to Tim Beckman.
Bob: Can we still get your book at the Illini Union bookstore? GREAT read! With practices closed, your roster comments on individuals really helps. I don't suppose we will be able to tell what the finished product will look like until an actual game is played. Everyone seems to be concerned about the lack of quality WR recruits; but looking at the roster would indicate that we have numerous guys either at WR, or red shirt WRs, or people that have played the position before that could be utilized. With the numerous DB recruits, do you get the sense that we are looking ro convert a few of these people if we fall short on the WR hunt?
Thanks for the kind words on the book. I will check to see if it available and get back to you.
One DB recruit has already been moved, Justin Hardee. I don't think you will see any other changes, though it could happen behind closed doors. I think Terry Hawthorne will get some work at receiver in the next three weeks.
You are right, we won't know about the final product until the opener against Western Michigan. And maybe beyond that. I've got a good feel for most of the starting lineup, but realize what I put in the paper could be wrong if the coaches don't want to spell it out on gameweek.
One thing you need to know moving forward: Injury information, unlike in the past, will be very limited. If any. Ron Zook used to lay it out pretty well each week. But Tim Beckman isn't going to say anything about injuries. Now, does that mean he won't answer about a player who clearlly gets hurt in the game? Not sure yet.
If I had to pick one team position that remains a huge question mark, it is the offensive line.
This was supposed to be a position of strength last year, and it ultimately proved to be largely
responsible for the mid-season collapse and the end of Zook's tenure. If this unit becomes solidfied
with the new coaching staff, I see a truly competitive team with Wisconsin for the division title.
Do we have the depth and talent on the offensive line to make a legitimate contender for Beckman
and Illini fans in year one of his tenure?
I couldn't agree with you more. The offensive line will determine how well the team does this season. Period. And I agree that last year's collapse had a lot to do with the offensive line, though I will tell you it is the job of the coaches to figure out a way to fix it and they couldn't.
The offensive linemen praise Luke Butkus as coach and I believe he will get the most out of them. Hugh Thornton and Graham Pocic are talented players and a good place to start. But wil Michael Heitz, Alex Hill and Jake Feldmeyer be the answer at the other three spots? Way too early to tell.
If those five work together, then Illinois has a chance for a special season. They don't have to perfect, just solid. We will know a lot more once Illinois gets into Big Ten play. I think the line will be fine in the first four, even Arizona State, which lost a ton of players from its defense.
Who would you say as of today are the starting WR's?
Not to be boring, but I will have to go with Spencer Harris, Ryan Lankford and Darius Millines. But Millines has some sort of injury issue, nothing major, that needs to be resolved. Beyond those three, Kenny Knight and Fritz Rock seem to have worked their way into the rotation.
The tight ends are going to have to play a major role for Illinois on offense, starting with Jon Davis.
In looking across the 1st year coaches landscape of BCS. who do you see most likely to truly coach up their teams and exceed expectations? (i.e., become coach of the year)
That's an easy one: Mike Leach at Washington State. He's got a returning quarterback and one of the best receivers in the country. And while everybody knows his offense, it doesn't mean the Pac-12 schools will be able to stop it. If he gets any kind of play from his defense, I see Leach leading Washington State to a bowl. And that will mean all sorts of awards for the pirate.
Would he have been a good fit at Illinois? Probably not. But it sure would have been fun to watch.
Bob, I was browsing through the players on Yahoo Rivals and noticed former Illini staff member Reggie Mitchell. I don't know why I never heard of him before but WOW did he score some major commitments for us in the 2009 class. Buchanan, Hawthorne, Scheelhaase, Thronton, and a few other 3 and 4 star players that just didn't pan out. So my question is, who on Tim Beckman's staff do you think is the best recruiter and can recruit like Reggie Mitchell did?
Reggie Mitchell did a great job bringing players to Illinois, going back to Juice Williams. He worked in areas where he had been in previously and those ties paid off. He is now at Kansas in an uncomfortable working environment with Charlie Weis. It was pretty well known that Weis didn't like the Illinois coaches during his time at Notre Dame. Now, they are together. Weird.
From what I understand, Chris Beatty is an excellent recruiter. And I think Luke Butkus and Alex Golesh will do a good job in Chicago. Like with any new staff, they need some time to connect with the high school coaches, but they seem to be off to a good start on that.
Bob, I see that Western Michigan's qb is back and is on some award watch lists. How concern should our defense be about his ability to operate WMU's offense? What does our "D" have to do to stop him?
Next, have you seen that the cost of having cushions on your seats has increased? I check last's year's cost; it was $70 ($35 a piece) for two seats for season ticket holders. This year, it is $49 per seat, based on the email I received, an increase of 40%. Yikes!
Finally, when is Mike Thomas and his crew going to start promoting Illini football in the Chicagoland area? Everyday in the Chicago Tribune, Northwestern is promoting their football through ads - Illini zilch! Should they not already have a plan in place in how to market in Chicagoland with all those Illini grads? Need more than a football game at Soldier Field a year from now to get their attention, especially for this year. Should they be highlighing their star defensive players on billboards?
Thanks again for your insights on the team, especially those quick q&a's with various players.
Alex Carder is back and is a talented quarterback. But he lost star receiver Jordan White and there is nobody like him with the Broncos. The Western Michigan offense will be fine, but not as good as last year.
Sorry about the seatbacks. My answer would be to go without, though my back wouldn't like that idea at all.
The other day, I heard Mike Thomas talk about a statewide plan to get the Illinois brand out there. I think it will start soon and I do think you will see billboards in the Chicagoland area. Let me know when you first see them popping up.
Who do you consider the most lilkely surprise team(s) to exceed expectations in the B1G and among BCS conferences?
Also, who do you consider the most likely teams to fall short of expectations across BCS?
I've got a weird feeling that Minnesota might make a serious jump. Not sure why other than my belief in Jerry Kill as a program rebuilder. Nationally, besides Mike Leach, I like the idea that North Carolina could make a big jump with Larry Fedora as coach. He is underrated.
Falling short, I think you've got to start with LSU, which just lost its best player. And I'm not completely in love with Oregon's team, though I did rank it high in the preseason.
Bob, Thank you for taking my question.....It seems as if the Illinois football program never has ambitous goals to be a national power house...The coaches and local media especially seem to regard the program as a second or third tier program, I never hear talk about going to the big dance or elevating this program to national prominence. Im sure you remember when Mike White was head coach Illinois was a national presence and got a lot of national attention. It seems as if coach Beckman doesn't even talk in terms of building this program into a national power. And the local media especially definitely do not think in those terms. in order to be a national power you have to think in those terms. Coach Beckman needs to make statements or comments that talk in those terms "We as a coacing staff want to build this program into a national consistent contender". And you as a part of the media need to think in those terms and ask questions in those terms? Coach Beckman are you wanting to build this program into a national contender? Is your recruiting geared to that goal? Recruits want to hear that from a program they are considering....It seems as if you and the local media are just happy to be a mediocre program...are you?
I cover the team. Period. I don't have a stake in Illinois winning or losing, or becoming a national power or Big Ten power. Sure, it might help circulation if the team won 11 games every year, but that isn't and can't be my concern.
I do think Tim Beckman has made it clear his goal is to win the Big Ten. And if you do that, you become a national power. His players are wearing bracelets that read 12-1-12, the date of the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis. He wants to be there. He talked at the end of practice Sunday about winning the Big Ten, so I believe his expectations are high.
Do I think Illinois could be a consistent threat to win the Big Ten? Yes. But will take a long run of 9-10-win seasons and improved recruiting. It has happened at other places in the Big Ten (Wisconsin comes to mind), so I would never say never.
Saw something wrote about our defense the other day claiming that its better than last years team. What is your take on that? I think the first string guys as a whole are better than last year, but we lack some depth across the board. Also is Nathan going to be able to get the pass game going our will we see Reilly come in during our 2 minute O or anytime we decide to throw the ball? Last, who is the most impressive freshman to this point in your opinion?
I think the defense can be as good or better than last year. A lot depends on health. There are depth issues at a couple spots and a key injury or two could be devastating. And I think safety continues to be an area of concern, though less now than at the start of camp.
I expect Nathan Scheelhaase to be the starter at the beginning of the season The only way he loses his job is if he goes on an interception throwing spree, and I don't see that happening.
Dami Ayoola has looked very good at running back. I think he gets on the field early. Devin Church and LaKeith Walls aren't far behind.
I'm going to cut it off for today. Thanks for all of the great questions. I'll talk to you next week.