April 16 Bob Asmussen chat

April 16 Bob Asmussen chat

Tuesday, April 16, 2019 - 11:00am

How did the Illinois football team look in the spring game? What are the biggest areas of concern? What are the strengths?

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


Bob Asmussen wrote on April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am
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Welcome back to another Bob Asmussen chat. I will be here for about an hour.

Hope everyone had a great weekend.I covered the Illinois spring game on Saturday and watched Tiger Woods win the Masters on Sunday. Lots of fun.

Illinois football has two more days of workouts before the coaches hit the road for recruiting and the players hit the books for the rest of the semester.

Lovie Smith's team is better than it was at the start of the spring. Will it be able to bump its win total at least two games? That's to be determined. The schedule is set up for a return to the postseason.

The next few months are very important for the program. Both the work the players do on their own and the recruiting efforts made by the coaches. Illinois is off to a good start with the class of 2020, but needs to continue to add quality players.

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


Arizona Bob wrote on April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am

Bob, I remember back in the Mike White days we had fairly slow and not particularly athletic receivers, yet it seems they were always getting open and separation and holdiing on to the ball in his West Coast "flare flood" offense where he flooded a zone and one receiver always broke free to be wide open, and the QBs typically had quick releases, found them quickly, and made those 4-7 yard gains on every play, and sometimes broke it for a big gain.

Do you think the problem with our passing game is scheme or just inability of our receivers to get open and catch the ball?

I also remember there were a lot of QB/receiver reads where a defensive alignment led to an "automatic" play where the receiver and QB didn't need to have a lot of communication....they just knew that a certain play was going to happen with a certain alignament no matter what was called. It drove even the best defnses nuts! Those quick plays made the QB almost "unsackable" even with medicre or less OL talent.

Is it a matter of that not being in Rod's play list, or inability of our QBs and receivers to execute it?



Bob Asmussen wrote on April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am
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Arizona Bob,


You are right about Mike White's offense. It had the ability to get guys in space. Great quarterbacking (Jack Trudeau, Tony Eason) made it work a lot better. John Mackovic continued the run with Jeff George.

The difference now is partially the defense being played. Guys are bigger and stronger and more athletic than they were 30 years ago. Defense has adjusted to the style change of the offense. Speed is a bigger deal than it used to be. Ability to cover is emphasized across the board.

I think Rod Smith's playbook has enough options to work against improving defenses. But it still counts on the execution by the players. QBs, receivers, running backs and linemen have to do their jobs. The quarterback play will get most of the attention, but those guys need help from everyone else.

It's hard to know what Illinois has to work with on offense without factoring in the promise of players like Isaiah Williams. He might be a game-changer. And Rod Smith hasn't ruled out the possibility of adding another transfer quarterback either.


Rich Patton wrote on April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am

Bob - Hope you are doing well.  We will be getting lots of help from graduate trasfers in this approaching season.  Are other teams doing the same - especailly other teams in our competitive range?  Will we be gaining a competitive advantage or will we be just "...keeping up with the Jones"?


Bob Asmussen wrote on April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am
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Great to hear from you and excellent question.

If you look at the transfer portal, you will see an endless list of names for both football and men's basketball.

Yes, other teams are taking advantage of the rule. In the Big Ten and beyond. It's a great way to fill a need. Let's say you are short at linebacker. Check the portal and there are certain to be players who can help.

Illinois needed receivers and found two guys it thinks can play. The goal has to be to only add guys the coaches feel can compete in the Big Ten.

It puts a burden on the staffs to make sure they scout the players correctly. And not just if the players have talent, but if they will fit with the current team both on and off the field.



BrianAn wrote on April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am

Why didnt Lovie keep Bellamy on his first staff ?

Bob Asmussen wrote on April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am
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Brian An,

Lovie Smith had his receivers coach, Andrew Hayes-Stoker, already working with him. And he quickly added Thad Ward to work with running backs.

In hindsight, Lovie Smith should have taken a closer look at the coaches from Bill Cubit's staff. Mike Bellamny played here and coaches here, It would have made a ton of sense to keep him on the staff.

The good news is that Bellamy was available when Illinois had an opening and was happy to return. It worked out in the end.

Coaches tend to want to bring in their own guys. That's fine. But there something very postive about retaining coaches who already have a feel for the place and for the team.

Anonymous User wrote on April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am

Any news on injuries, particularly Calvin Avery?

Bob Asmussen wrote on April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am
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Calvin Avery has a knee injury, but it is not considered serious. Nothing that will keep him from playing in 2019.

The offensive linemen who have missed some time during the spring are all on the road to recovery and will be ready for training camp.

Arizona Bob wrote on April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am

Bob, I think it's pretty clear from this years early success in recruitng and player response to new staff that our recruitng shortcomiongs over the last three years wasn't due to the university, the location or the program lack of success on the field. None of that has changed. THe primary thing that changed seems to have been hiring assistants who actually have some bonafides in recruiting, like Bellamy, Hudson, and Clark, both of whom I suspect were key in getting 5* USC transfer Beitku and hopefully their receiver.

One wonders where we'd be today if Lovie had more of an emphasis on recruiting experience, skill and networks when he first came to Illinois.

Do you agree that our recruiting issues in the first Lovie classes were the recruiters rather than the University and program lack of success?

Bob Asmussen wrote on April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am
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Arizona Bob,

You are right. Lovie Smith hadn't been in college football in two decades and I think he went the wrong way with a couple of his hires. Because he had no base in recruiting, he needed to bring in guys who knew where to go. He needed three or four Mike Locksleys.

He realized he needed to make changes and I think he now has a staff in place that will be effective in recruiting. Success on the field will make it easier.

Anonymous User wrote on April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am

When you include the transfers along with the HS commits, is it me or did the Illini have a very good year with the class of 2019? Seems like although what it lacked in quantity they made up for in quality didn't it? Also the QB  Fields that transferred to Ohio State from I believe Georgia was given the ok to play without having to sit out a year. What was his hardship claim? Seems like all he wanted to do was play for Ohio State and it was granted. And we are still waiting to find out the status for Luke Ford who claimed he wanted to be closer to home so it would be easier to have some elderly relatives watch him play. How does the NCAA decide these things? I understand they don't want a free for all when it comes to transfers. I also understand a school like Georgia would not want to set a precedent and make it easier for kids to leave, But isn't it what is best for the student athlete and their situation that should be the overlying factor here? Seems like well if OSU has a good QB and is successful and more people would watch on TV ($$$$$) that is what counts. Sorry just cynically speculating. Love the chats!

Bob Asmussen wrote on April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am
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You make a lot of good points. Good timing, too. I am writing a column for Sunday on Luke Ford. Mostly about how the spring has gone for him, but some about his transfer.

I do think the NCAA now leans toward what is best for the student-athlete. So, unless there are some factors we don't know about, I believe Luke Ford will get cleared to be on the field in 2019. And that will be the right decision for everyone involved.


Illini Football Fan wrote on April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am

Bob -

If you had a chance to check around other spring football camps, how do you compare this Illini squad to other teams to date?

What do you see happening in other spring football camps involving our B10 partners? What teams do you see trending up? And what teams trending down? Who are the surprise stars so far? And disappointments to date? Which school seems to have the worse luck with injuries or departures?

Which teams do you see us (Illini) pulling ahead compared to start of spring ball?


Bob Asmussen wrote on April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am
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Illini Football Fan,


I haven't had much chance to catch up on the rest of the Big Ten. I watched some of the Ohio State, Minnesota and Nebraska spring games.

Huge crowds at Ohio State and Nebraska, which was impressive given that it is spring ball.

I will make an effort in the next few weeks to see where everyone else is going into the summer. Fortunately, I will be writing a weekly college football page each Sunday, which gives me a chance to look at the rest of the schools.

Generally, the Big Ten is on the rise. In the Big Ten West, Iowa is going to be as good or better than last season. Nebraska will be improved. Wisconsin is always going to be good. And Northwestern has found a groove with Pat Fitzgerald in charge.

Purdue is coming off a big loss in its bowl game, but I believe Jeff Brohm has the team on the right track.


Arizona Bob wrote on April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am

Where do you see the WR transfers (Sidney from USC and the guy from Richmond) fitting in the two deep next year? What's the word on Sidney's ability to play after all the injuries? We just had a bust with Meadows last year from injury recovery, and the busted Thomas and Miller transfers certainly suggest caution.

I see Sydney battling with Cumby at the slot and the other transfer battling Smalling for a starting spot. If he runs good routes, adjusts well to get open and has good hands I think he can unseat Smalling.

No one on the current roster has stood out, and our recruit Washington is a real project as a possession receiver. 

What's your take on this situation?

BTW, what's the latest word on where Unije, Bennet Williams and Carmoni Green are transferring?

Are any of the OL from Illinois in the transfer portal considering staying (and are welcome) given coach Butkus' departure?

Bob Asmussen wrote on April 16, 2019 at 12:04 pm
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Arizona Bob,


When it comes to receivers, I don't worry too much about the two-deep. Rod Smith wants his guys moving at a fast pace, which means a lot of guys have to play.

I think Sidney, if healthy, will be on the field early and often. I think the coaches added him because they saw his potential.

I think Ricky Smalling will play a significant role with Illinois in 2019. Rod Smith knows his ability.

I am constantly asking about the transfer players and will let you know when I find out. I hope it works out for them.

I doubt any of the Illinois players in the transfer portal will return.



Bob Asmussen wrote on April 16, 2019 at 12:04 pm
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I am going to cut the chat off for today. Sorry for any questions I didn't get to.

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

Have a great holiday week.