Feb. 26 Bob Asmussen chat

Feb. 26 Bob Asmussen chat

Monday, February 26, 2018 - 10:00am

What does the addition of Gill Byrd mean for the Illinois defense? How will the new coaches impact recruiting? Are there enough quarterbacks for Illinois to have a spring game?

For the answers to these questions, and anything else on your mind, check in with our longtime football beat writer.

Bob Asmussen wrote on February 26, 2018 at 10:02 am
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Welcome back to another Bob Asmussen chat. Hope everybody had a great weekend. I watched a lot of basketball and the final days of the Winter Olympics. The women's hockey and the cross-country gold medals for the Americans were very cool. Credit NBC for making the time difference work to its advantage. It became a family thing at my house, with everyone having a favorite event. Can't wait for the next Summer Games in two years.

I went to see "Black Panther" on Saturday night. Great movie with an awesome cast.

On the sports front, Illinois spring football is just around the corner. Lovie Smith has a full staff after the hiring of Gill Byrd.

Enough stalling, time to get to your questions. As always, thanks for your participation.

 

Illini Football Fan wrote on February 26, 2018 at 10:02 am

Bob -

I noted that Lovie added an additional title to Gill Byrd's long title of Safeties Coach/Passing Game Coordinator. How does this help with Rod Smith OC's responsibilities? What is Smith's take on this?

I am also thinking it is a possible strategy to bump up his pay (??).

Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

Bob Asmussen wrote on February 26, 2018 at 10:02 am
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Illini Football Fan,

 

I should have asked Illinois for clarification on Gill Byrd's title. I am going to assume that he will be the pass defense coordinator, which makes a lot given his history as a coach.

No matter what the title, I think it was a good hire for Lovie Smith. Not only did he add an experienced NFL coach, but also someone with a strong history as a player, too. As far as their playing careers go, the Illinois defense staff has to rank as one of the best in the country. Byrd and Donnie Abraham were both standout defensive backs and Hardy Nickerson was a star linebacker. I have to believe that helps Illinois when it comes to recruiting. The coaches have been where the prospects want to go. Kind of an easy sell.

Anonymous User wrote on February 26, 2018 at 10:02 am

Needless to say the FB talent at Illinois when Lovie arrived was pretty barren. I would say his two recruiting classes were above average and leaned heavily towards builing talent along both the defensive and offensive sides of the ball, building the foundation so to speak. Getting skilled position players who are difference makers while still recruiting good lineman seem in order going forward wouldn't it? I checked and Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin did not win until his 3rd year, and Kirk Ferentz at Iowa did not win until his 2nd year although he did take over from Hayden Fry who had a good run. Given that, those young lineman Lovie has recruited after a year of weight training, coaching and game experience could we expect to see a good jump in their play? With smart offensive play calling, and using ball control with a good run game, could we see that transend to an improved record? Maybe not good enough to make a bowl game, but I would think certainly visible improvement. I would think a bowl game expected in year 4?  Possible? 

Bob Asmussen wrote on February 26, 2018 at 10:02 am
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Anon,

I think of Lovie Smith as an old-school coach. And that means start the rebuild at the line of scrimmpage and go from there. It doesn't mean you overlook the skill positions, but the priority is up front.

Lovie Smith is the sixth new Illiois football coach I have covered. They all do it a bit different but with the same goal in mind: get better across the board. The problem has been that without a consistent voice at the top, the systems have changed so often. And that has made winning difficult.

The year of experience for the young linemen will make a difference this season. How much? That's hard to know until they start playing games. Remember, the rest of the Big Ten is getting better too. In fact, I think the West is ready for a big jump for all of the teams.

Modest improvement at Illinois isn't the goal. The team wants to win big and win now. But if the win total jumps to 4, 5 or 6 it will be proof that the improvement is being made.

I believe the Illinois offense will be better than in 2017. How much better is going to go a long way in determining how many games the team can win. I think Rod Smith has a style that will not be easy for the rest of the Big Ten to figure out. I saw one of his teams put up 67 against an Illinois defense that included some very good players.

I think we will get a good read on the team's potential in both the South Florida game at Soldier Field and in the Big Ten opener against Penn State.

 

Daytripper wrote on February 26, 2018 at 10:02 am

Bob:

With Spring practice around the corner, what will you be looking at to indicate that the team is going to have improved results next year?  Any indication how the off-season strength and conditioning program is impacting the younger players?

Bob Asmussen wrote on February 26, 2018 at 11:02 am
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Daytripper,

The obvious first place to start is at quarterback. Although that becomes a bit tricky because the only scholarship player back with experience is Cam Thomas. He cannot work every down in the spring. It's too bad one of the incoming quarterbacks wasn't able to start early. I think we will see them around some in the spring, especially Coran Taylor, who has a short commute from Peoria.

From what I understand in talking to Rod Smith, his offense will be at a faster tempo. I think we will be able to see how well the players handle that tempo. It will be a lot better in the 12th practice than in the first.

On the strength question, the players have been universal in their praise for coach Joey Boese. Sounds like he is able to motivate them and help them improve in areas that relate to football. The idea is not to be able to win a weight lifting contest. The idea is to take that strength and use it to your advantage on the field. Joey Boese understands that.

Illini Football Fan wrote on February 26, 2018 at 11:02 am

Bob -

Another great article on our new OL coach. I think this is a smart move by Lovie and Nickerson.

Do you consider this year's football coaching staff at this time equal to last year's coaching staff OR a minor upgrade OR major upgrade with coaching abilities and recruiting abilities?

Thank you. 

 

 

 

Bob Asmussen wrote on February 26, 2018 at 11:02 am
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Illini Football Fan,

Thanks for the kind words. I really appreciate it. Austin Clark seems like a good guy with a bright future in coaching.

I think Illinois has made an upgrade with its football staff. Is it major? I think that is too be determined by what happens going forward.

Where I think Illinois made a signficant upgrade is in the staff's recruiting ability. Cory Patterson figures to have a huge positive impact. So will Rod Smith, Gill Byrd and Austin Clark. I think that was an area that need to be addressed at Illinois and it has been addressed. The payoff should come with next year's class and beyond.

The 2017 season was one of the worst I have seen for Illinois in my time covering the team. There is literally no place to go but up. And I think that will happen starting in 2018.

 

Illini Football Fan wrote on February 26, 2018 at 11:02 am

Bob -

What are the chances of us getting that 5th year QB from U of A given his ties to our OC Rod Smith?

Thanks!

 

Bob Asmussen wrote on February 26, 2018 at 11:02 am
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Illini Football Fan,

The last time I talked to Rod Smith about adding a graduate transfer quarterback, he said it was possible. Of course, he can't mention names. That would be a rules violation. But you have to think a player from Arizona woud be interested in joining his former coach at another Power 5 school. I think Illinois has the room to add a player. If they think the guy can help them win, I think it will be considered.

I'm going to go with a 50 percent chance. If Cam Thomas plays well in the spring, the percentage drops.

Panera Guy wrote on February 26, 2018 at 11:02 am

Bob,

Thanks for taking our questions today, looking forward to the start of Spring practice.

With all the investigations playing out on the basketball side, do you expect that similar issues were happening with football recruits? How much of that do you think the "1 and done" system caused, if any?

I think every fan held their breath looking at the list of implicated schools, thankfully Illinois wasn't on there. It gives some relief when we didn't land that prized recruit, now we may know why.

Thanks again for the chats!

Bob Asmussen wrote on February 26, 2018 at 11:02 am
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Panera Guy,

 

This seems to be more of a basketball issue, but nothing at this point would surprise me.

You will hear the argument that one or two basketball players can make a huge difference in a team's success and that is rarely the case in football. But that doesn't mean it never happens. There have certainly been cases in the past where great football players received extra benefits. It is never a good thing, but I think we are being unrealistic if we think it never happens.

I am not so cynical to believe that everybody cheats. And I don't think that should ever to used as an excuse for your own cheating. I want to root for a team that tries to do it the right way. Are we disappointed sometimes? Of course. But that is not a reason to stop trying.

One thing I would caution all fans to avoid is celebrating when a rival makes a mistake. Because that could someday be your team.

What is the long-term answer for college sports. I think it is clear we need more transparency and we need rules that makes sense. We also need the rules applied to all schools the same. Just because a school has had a lot of success, doesn't mean it should be exempt from punishment. In fact, the best teams should be the leaders in doing it the right way.

Lecture over.

 

 

Bob Asmussen wrote on February 26, 2018 at 11:02 am
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I am going to cut the chat off for today. Thanks for all of your great questions.

I will be back next Monday at the same time. If you have any questions between now and then, feel free to emal me at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

If you are in town tonight, stop by The Esquire at 5 for "The News-Gazette Sports Page." Illini receiver Mikey Dudek and the Schlarman girls' basketball team will be our guests.

Have a great week and enjoy the conference basketball tournaments.