Camp Rantoul report Day 2: LaCosse adjusting
Each day, beat writer Bob Asmussen goes all Camp Rantoul on us. Tuesday's report:
IN THE NEWS
— He isn't listed first on the depth chart at safety or cornerback. But PATRICK NIXON-YOUMAN knows he will be on the field.
"I'm very excited," Nixon-Youman said. "My role is very different now from last year. Now, I'm more of a leader. They expect more out of me."
Besides safety, Nixon-Youman likely will spend time at nickel.
He is working with a new position coach, TIM BANKS, his third in three years.
"It's good," Nixon-Youman said. "I can see the difference, but, all in all, they all teach the same techniques. You just go out each day and implement what they teach."
Nixon-Youman is running out of days at Camp Rantoul. The senior is enjoying it.
On Thursday, the team will be together in practice for the first time.
"That's very exciting," Nixon-Youman said. "We'll get to see what we've got."
— A year after the skinny kid showed up at Camp Rantoul, MATT LaCOSSE looks a whole lot more like a tight end today.
The former high school quarterback has added size and strength.
"It's night and day," LaCosse said. "Last year, I was coming in here learning how to block for the first time. I was 220 pounds trying to block WHITNEY MERCILUS. It didn't pan out too well. Now, it's a lot better. It's nice going through the spring, knowing every play going into practice and not having to cram the night before."
There might not be a more loaded position on the team than tight end. JON DAVIS is the team's No. 2 leading returning receiver after a standout freshman season. EVAN WILSON has experience. EDDIE VILIUNAS, another converted quarterback, finished 2011 strong.
"We've got a lot of depth," LaCosse said.
LaCosse was a likely redshirt last season until ZACH BECKER suffered a broken leg. The experience he got in 2011 will help LaCosse in future seasons.
"Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have that year back," LaCosse said. "But I wouldn't be where I am now if I had sat last year. I didn't practice with the scout team. I had reps with the ones and twos. It really helped me get a lot better and understand what playing Big Ten football is."
LaCosse wants to someday use his quarterback skills for the Illini.
"Hopefully, in the future," LaCosse said. "I need a tight end reverse pass."
— MICHAEL HEITZ started his career as an offensive tackle. Now, he is playing guard.
"I'm fine with it," Heitz said. "As long as I get to play, I'm happy."
Will he be one of the five starters against Western Michigan on Sept. 1?
"We've still got a lot of camp to go, and it's still up for anyone," Heitz said. "We'll see at the end of camp. We've got another week here and a week at the Hawthorn (Suites, where the team will stay next week)."
His experience in 2011 helps, Heitz said. He can recognize what the defense is doing before the snap, which the redshirt freshman linemen will have to learn.
Preseason magazines have been pointing to the Illinois offensive line as a potential team flaw. Heitz likes to hear it.
"Any time they put a little doubt on us, it fires us up," Heitz said.
— Former Illini JACK CORNELL took his heavy beard (think he started shaving at age 10) with him to the NFL. But Cornell has sent word back to Camp Rantoul that there needs to be a replacement beard. Heitz is trying. And some of the other offensive linemen are threatening.
"HUGH (THORNTON) said he is growing his out," Illinois quarterback NATHAN SCHEELHAASE said. "He started growing it out about a week ago. I would go with Hugh right now as my nominee."
The team has split practices today, with the Blue unit going at 9 a.m. and the Orange practicing at 4:45 p.m. On Thursday, the team will be together for the first time, with a single practice scheduled for 9 a.m.
POSITION WATCH: Linebacker
Tennessee (twice), Louisiana, South Carolina. Alabama's linebacking crew? Or LSU's? Or Georgia's?
Try, Illinois. The Southern connection includes junior starter JONATHAN BROWN (Tennessee) and sophomores HOUSTON BATES (Louisiana), HENRY DICKINSON (Tennessee) and RALPH COOPER (South Carolina).
"We love it," Cooper said. "We love coming up here, bringing a little funk to the North. But we've got a few linebackers from the North now."
Dickinson and Cooper are at Camp Rantoul for the second time. A year ago, they got thrown onto the field early and had to learn as they moved along.
"It's a little easier adjusting to everything," Dickinson said. "We're catching on fast."
While depth might be a concern beyond the Southern quartet, Dickinson doesn't doubt the ability.
"I feel there are plenty of guys," Dickinson said. "We've got talent in just about every spot. A bunch of new freshmen came in and did well."
Dickinson said he learned plenty from watching Brown, who is considered among the Big Ten's top linebackers.
"He's a great guy to key off of," Dickinson said.
Cooper played in three games as a freshman. He should hit his 2011 tackle total, three, by halftime of the first game.
His limited role last season served as motivation. He wants to be on the field.
"Not as much sadness and disappointment," Cooper said. "I was more disappointed in our season than just me personally. I'm all about the team."
Like Dickinson, Cooper said he learned from Brown and former Illini Ian Thomas.
"I feel real confident coming into the season," Cooper said. "There is so much potential there for me to get better. I can't be nervous. I have to have confidence in myself. Make plays, don't hesitate, go downhill and I'll be a great linebacker, just like in high school."
TIGHT ENDS/SPECIALISTS/RECRUITING COORDINATOR ALEX GOLESH
He wears many, many hats. On Tuesday after practice, while holding his infant daughter, ALEX GOLESH wore the dad hat.
He will start this morning as the recruiting coordinator, getting work in before practice at 9 a.m.
"We're worried about recruiting every day," Golesh said. "The old adage you always hear, it's like shaving. If you miss a day, it will show.
"We've got five people in the recruiting staff. My job is really to delegate it out between everybody and make sure it's getting done while we're on the field."
During practice, Golesh tries to divide his time between the tight ends and the specialists. Because the specialists are on a bit of a different schedule, Golesh is able to make it work.
While Illinois needs a new kicker and improvement at punter, Golesh has one position locked up: long snapper. ZAK PEDERSEN returns for his senior season.
"He's been the most consistent part of the special teams and is doing a really good job," Golesh said. "We brought in two young walk-ons (Centennial's MICHAEL MARTIN and Eureka's ZACH HIRTH), who are both doing a phenomenal job competing for that job for when Zak gets done."
Golesh doesn't know what will happen at punter and kicker. JUSTIN DuVERNOIS returns after starting the bulk of 2011 as a punter, but he wasn't consistent. RYAN LANKFORD punted well in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
"That job is a big-time, big-time priority for us," Golesh said. "Justin's come in on the depth chart as the No. 1 guy. Justin knows the performance he had toward the end of the year was not acceptable. He's trying to recuperate from that. Building his confidence has been my No. 1 job."
RYAN FRAIN joined the team as a scholarship candidate for the kicking and punting jobs. GARRETT STROUP is a walk-on punter.
NICK IMMEKUS entered training camp as the No. 1 kicker, followed closely by TAYLOR ZALEWSKI.
"We're trying to find the consistency among those guys," Golesh said. "Who can be the best every day? In reality, none of those guys has kicked in a college game."
SURVEY SAYS ...
Each day during Camp Rantoul, we will run survey answers from the Illinois football players. Today's guests:
LINEBACKER JONATHAN BROWN
Obama or Romney? Obama
Olympic event you had to watch? Track and field
Favorite stadium to visit? Big House or Happy Valley, but I'm excited to go to the Horseshoe
1992 Dream Team or 2012 version? 2012
RG3 or Andrew Luck? RG3
Teammate who should be on "America's Got Talent"? Ian Thomas
How many days would you like to stay in Camp Rantoul? Two weeks. That's my vacation
Four-team playoff or BCS? BCS
Other than your girlfriend, who will be cool if you answer this, who is your dream date? Taraji P. Henson
Which current Illinois coach looks like he still can play? Steve Clinkscale
Other than a teammate, who is your Heisman favorite? Tyrann Mathieu
You are in charge of music at Memorial Stadium. What's on? Yo Gotti and Young Jeezy
DEFENSIVE LINEMAN D.J. WOODS
Obama or Romney? Obama
Olympic event you had to watch? 100-meter dash
Favorite stadium to visit? Camp Randall Stadium
1992 Dream Team or 2012 version? 2012
RG3 or Andrew Luck? Andrew Luck
Teammate who should be on "America's Got Talent"? Austin Teitsma
How many days would you like to stay in Camp Rantoul? One week
Four-team playoff or BCS? BCS
Other than your girlfriend, who will be cool if you answer this, who is your dream date? Scarlett Johansson
Which current Illinois coach looks like he still can play? Coach Beckman
You are in charge of music at Memorial Stadium. What's on? Tiesto