Illinois going five and out
CHAMPAIGN – For six or seven Big Ten football coaches, practice lasts another five weeks.
For Illinois coach Ron Turner, practice lasts another five days.
Unlike Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, Turner's team doesn't have a bowl game to look forward to after the season. He would like the bonus practice time.
"The teams that need it the most don't get the extra practice," Turner said Sunday. "That's the benefit of playing well and winning and getting to a bowl game."
Bowl practice allows schools to take a look at young players, experiment with positions and start to plan for next season.
"It's a tremendous advantage to the teams that go to bowl games," Turner said. "It's like having another spring practice for the young guys. The majority of your practice, you mix in your young guys. It's critical."
If Turner wants to try young players, he has a week left to do it.
He took a look at one untested offensive lineman during Saturday's 41-6 loss at Ohio State. Mike Flaar played most of the second half at right guard.
"Five weeks ago, I would have said 'No way we'll get him in there,' " Turner said. "But he's lost some weight. He's getting in a little bit better shape."
Flaar came to Illinois after an All-American high school career at Oswego. One recruiting service called him the best offensive guard in the nation his senior season.
But in his first three years at Illinois, Flaar had been a deep reserve. Until now.
"We knew all along he had ability, but he was so out of shape he just wasn't ready to play," Turner said. "He's grown up a little bit. He's understanding what it takes. He's got some natural strength. He's very talented. Sometimes it takes offensive linemen awhile to get going."
And sometimes touted offensive linemen don't pan out.
"A lot of it is how determined they are," Turner said.
Flaar was part of an improved Illini offensive line against Ohio State. The group helped Robert Holcombe gain 143 rushing yards.
"The offensive line played the best they've played in awhile," Turner said. "They're making progress."
Turner didn't see any progress in his passing game. Junior Mark Hoekstra, back in the starting lineup for the first time since the Washington State game, hit 19 of 34 passes for 146 yards. Turner said Hoekstra will start Saturday's game against Michigan State.
"I don't know if he did enough to keep it, but he is keeping it," Turner said.
The final week of practice and Saturday's game ends four months together for the Illini players and coaches. When it started in August, Turner didn't imagine an 0-10 start to his Illinois career.
"Sometimes it seems like it was 10 years ago, and sometimes it seems like it was yesterday," Turner said. "It's a little bit of both."
During practices, Turner has the "it just started yesterday feeling."
"When you're talking about the development we're trying to make and where we're going, I wish we had a lot more time," Turner said. "We need all the work and all the practice we can get with these guys."
Turner doesn't plan any special sessions for the final week of practice.
"We're just going to do what we think gives us the best opportunity to win this week," he said.