On Sundays during Illinois spring football, beat writer Bob Asmussen will wrap up what he saw and heard from Tim Beckman’s team:
— The new offensive line coach brought in some help this week: the owner of two Super Bowl rings, DAVE DIEHL.
"It's crazy," Diehl said. "It's still hard to believe. It's an amazing accomplishment." Diehl, the former Illini and star offensive lineman for the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, came to campus to hang out with buddy LUKE BUTKUS. He watched the offensive linemen practice Friday night at Memorial Stadium, not far from the weight room he helped pay for.
"I'll go in there and throw some weights around," Diehl said. "I've got to tell them I need a key."
Before practice, Diehl talked to the entire team.
"My whole theme is just 'Look at us last year,' " Diehl said. " 'Let people say on the outside what they want to say. Let people doubt you. Let people count you guys out. If this room believes in each other. If this team is going to come out and practice at a championship level each and every day and push each other to get better and, most importantly, fight for each other, there's no telling what you can do.' "
Illinois coach TIM BECKMAN was thrilled to have Diehl visit.
"It's huge," Beckman said. "This is what this place is all about, the tradition, the type of individuals we have who graduate from this great university."
Diehl had already been a frequent visitor to Illinois during his 10 years in the NFL. With Butkus on the Illini staff, expect to see Diehl more often.
"Luke's like a brother to me," Diehl said. "I spent many times practicing in this stadium with him, playing games with him, working with him. I told him once the offseason hit that I'd come back here and watch film, break down things with him and do whatever I can to help him with the offensive line."
Diehl had a long streak of consecutive starts end during the 2011 season. He suffered a hamstring injury that cost him a month and later broke his hand.
But Diehl said he is feeling great physically and ready to get back to work. He wants to add a third Super Bowl ring.
"I'm going to do whatever it takes to get another one," Diehl said.
The Giants open the NFL season on Sept. 5 at home against Dallas. The game was originally scheduled for Sept. 6 but was moved to avoid PRESIDENT OBAMA's speech at the Democratic National Convention.
"We're going to have a target on our back, unlike we did last year," Diehl said.
At one point during the 2011 season, the Giants were 7-7 and given little chance to even make the playoffs, let alone win it all.
"We earned it," Diehl said.
— The 90-catch, 1,276-yard receiver from 2011 is gone. Later this month, A.J. JENKINS will hear his name called by an NFL team during the draft.
So, who's going to replace him? One guy or several?
DARIUS MILLINES hopes to be part of the answer. So does SPENCER HARRIS.
Harris is the team's leading returning receiver, catching 26 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown. Millines was fourth on the team with 19 catches for 216 yards and a score.
"Anybody can take that spot at any time," Millines said. "All of the receivers are working hard to fill that gap.
"I'm striving to get there."
Millines likes the offense being run by co-coordinators BILLY GONZALES and CHRIS BEATTY.
"I think it fits me pretty good," Millines said. "It works for me."
Millines got to know Gonzales during his high school career. Gonzales recruited Millines while on the staff at Florida.
"He's funny," Millines said. "I already knew a little bit about him."
Gonzales is different than former receivers coach PAUL PETRINO, who returned to Arkansas as offensive coordinator.
"Coach P has his little ways," Millines said. "Coach Gonzales has his ways. It's small differences, really."
Some thought Harris might follow Petrino back to Arkansas. As a high school senior, Harris considered the Razorbacks before signing with Illinois.
"I like Petrino, he's a great coach," Harris said. "But I stay loyal to the team and to the guys. I'm glad I stayed. I'm having a blast right now. I love it here and I love what we're doing.
"I couldn't ask for a better position coach than Coach Gonzales. He's a great guy."
Gonzales focuses on details during practice. After each route, Gonzales will stop the players and tell them what they did wrong and what they did right.
Gonzales is looking for depth at the position. It's a work in progress.
"We're going to have to develop that over time," Gonzales said. "The guys are working hard. They're continuing to get better."
— Beckman decided to close practices last Monday and Wednesday to everyone but the players and coaches. That meant no media, period. And no parents or family members.
"I told these players, 'There have been a lot of people around, even parents. We're going to practice one practice where it's just us,' " Beckman said. "That's all it is."
— GRAHAM POCIC has seen a few offenses during his time at Illinois. Actually, four.
How does he feel about the latest?
"I think it's awesome," the two-year starting center said. "New coaches, you hear different philosophies. Having Coach (LUKE) BUTKUS is awesome. The offense, we're getting ahold of it now. We're starting to do better with it and understand it more."
Butkus starred at Illinois at center before starting his career as an NFL player and coach.
"He's a big help to me," Pocic said.
Butkus told Pocic and guard HUGH THORNTON that is "your group." Pocic appreciates the support.
"You always want to set a great example," Pocic said. "As a group, we're not going to be yelling and hooting and hollering. We're going to be quiet and we're going to get our work done."
— More than 1,000 high school coaches made their way to Champaign-Urbana this weekend for the annual Illinois High School Football Coaches Association clinic at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Many of the coaches watched Friday's practice at Memorial Stadium, which included a cookout in the Great West Hall.
Beckman and his staff spent Thursday evening at the clinic. Beckman returned for a session Friday morning.
"It's been a great opportunity for us to showcase what we're doing," Beckman said.
The event ended with Saturday's Hall of Fame luncheon. Area coaches who were honored include current Danville coach B.J. LUKE, former Villa Grove coaches KEVIN CRANDALL and TIM NOLEN, former Gibson City coach RON METZ and former Watseka coach RICK ODGERS.
— Diehl wasn't the only former Illini watching Friday's evening practice. JAY KULAGA, BEN AMUNDSEN, DAN CUTTER and PATRICK ROUSE attended the session. Kulaga, an All-Big Ten offensive lineman his senior year, works in the medical field in Chicago.
— Friday was the last day of work at Illinois for trainer NICK RICHEY, who has been named Bowling Green's assistant athletic director for sports medicine. Richey has been at Illinois since 2007 and has served as head football trainer since 2009.
— Illinois safety SUPO SANNI, who missed the 2010 season after suffering a ruptured Achilles' tendon in his right leg, is having trouble with his left Achilles.
"We've kind of put him off and shelved him a little bit," Beckman said. "But that makes other guys perform. That makes the young guys step up and do what they need to do to get our team better."
Running back DONOVONN YOUNG continues to be sidelined while recovering from a foot injury.
"He is getting better and better each day," Beckman said. "We're not going to get him out there until we feel he's 100 percent ready. That's been a little bit of a ding that came to us during winter workouts."
Beckman is eager to watch Young perform.
"You can see his body has matured," Beckman said.
— Pocic isn't about to push his brother, Lemont junior ETHAN POCIC, into a quick college decision.
"I'm going to help him out whenever he needs help," Pocic said.
While Pocic picked Illinois during the summer before his senior year, he sees no such timetable for his younger brother, a News-Gazette All-State offensive lineman.
"He's on a trip right now, seeing a bunch of schools," Graham Pocic said. "It's all up to him."
Ethan Pocic has offers from Illinois, Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Ohio State and others. He visited with Graham on the Illinois campus earlier in the semester.
"He's going to make his decision and I'm going to support him either way," Graham Pocic said. "I'm definitely going to let him know what Illinois has to offer."
— "We're not in the NFL where you can go on the waiver wire and pick somebody up. This is who we have. So, we're going to have to be able to do what our players are capable of doing and being successful doing. Those are the things that we are trying to utilize when we go out there on offense. Is it a spread? Maybe it's not always going to be a spread if we can't be in a spread. If we've got to get more tight ends in the football game that's what we're going to do. We're going to play our 11 best." — Illinois coach Beckman
"I've been really excited about all three of the quarterbacks. I think all three of them give you a little bit of the same. Yeah, they're a little bit different in some ways. To say one guy can run it and one guy can't, I don't think that's fair to say. If you take a look at our practices, what we've realized is we've got three guys who can run the offense extremely well," Illinois co-offensive coordinator Gonzales on NATHAN SCHEELHAASE, REILLY O'TOOLE and MILES OSEI
— "I see it as a learning and a connecting period between the coaches and all of the players. While they're evaluating us, we're also doing our evaluating of how they coach. It's been fun." — Illinois receiver Millines (right)