Three things beat writer MATT DANIELS picked up on Monday, the Illinois football team’s seventh spring practice:
Purple reign. The primary color of Northwestern is not one of Tim Beckman’s favorites. Looking around at Monday morning’s practice inside the Irwin Indoor Facility, purple was pretty spread out among his team. At least nine players, both on offense and defense, had purple jerseys on, indicating they were injured and could not go through drills and game-like scenarios the Illini went through. Notable among the non-active players was tight end Jon Davis, who had his right arm in a sling and will likely miss the rest of spring ball with a dislocated elbow, according to Beckman. With Matt LaCosse donning purple garb for spring ball so far, the tight end position saw Tyler White and Tim Clary receiving more reps with the starters on Monday.
Setting the Barr. One key offensive player who has not experienced any injuries this spring is wideout Martize Barr. The leading returning receiver for Illinois can’t afford to. He has a young group of wideouts — Justin Hardee, Geronimo Allsion and Mike Dudek were seeing some reps with the starters on Monday and Hardee is the only other one who has caught a pass at Illinois — to help mentor. “A lot of new guys and new guys throwing to them, too,” quarterback Wes Lunt said. “We’re all learning, but it’s been good, though.” Barr, a senior from Washington, D.C., doesn’t mind tutoring some of the newcomers Illinois has at the position, especially since he was in the same situation last spring after transferring from Iowa Western Community College. “Practice is going good,” he said. “I’m glad to be back out here again in the flow of things. I’m just trying to get better and perfect my craft. I need to get these young guys going so I can have some help this year. I’m probably the only proven guy, and other people know that, too. We’ve got some younger guys around, so I’m really on them to work on their craft and help me out.” Barr didn’t have a flashy 2013 season by any means. But his 26 receptions for 246 yards are tops among the returning wide receiving corps. He’ll have a new quarterback throwing him the ball this fall. What Lunt, Aaron Bailey and Reilly O’Toole have displayed so far doesn’t leave Barr anxious about who his new quarterback is. “They all look real good,” he said. “They all can throw the deep ball, and they’ve all got a grasp of the offense. It makes the offense move a lot smoother.” Barr wasn’t accustomed to losing at Iowa Western before he arrived at Illinois. The Reivers won the junior college national championship in Barr’s only season in Council Bluffs before he arrived in Champaign-Urbana. “This team, we know we can win,” he said. “That’s the biggest difference is our confidence. It is high right now.”
Inside job. Mike Svetina won’t budge. On his hair competition with fellow linebacker and fellow Ohioan Mason Monehim. “It kind of angers us a little bit at times,” Svetina said with a laugh, “but we’re getting through it.” Both juniors have vowed to not cut their long hair until the other one does. And both are back to possibly playing next to one another this fall. Svetina is working this spring at an inside linebacker spot. He played there last spring, too, and was primed to vie for playing time there last fall until a knee injury to Eric Finney forced Illinois to move him to the STAR position. “I feel comfortable (at inside linebacker),” Svetina said. “It’s where I came in as. We’re starting to come together as a defense now, and it’s a lot of fun to be out there.” Svetina finished fifth on last year’s team with 57 tackles but had to play out in space more defending the pass. He’ll still have some pass coverage responsibilities at inside linebacker, although most of those will focus on tight ends and running backs as opposed to wide receivers. “It’s just a learning process,” Svetina said. “Whatever is going to help the team. I liked it at STAR, but whatever I’ve got to play, I will.” T.J. Neal and Ralph Cooper are Svetina’s biggest challengers for playing time at the moment. “We love competing with each other,” Svetina said. Just the way defensive coordinator Tim Banks wants it. “I think it’s heated right now,” he said. “Moving Svetina back inside bolsters the group, and then you look at some of the improvements that Mason has made and T.J. is really making a push. With Ralph being a senior, he knows this is his opportunity. It’s pretty tight right now, to be honest with you. I think Wednesday will be a day we start separating guys a little bit.”