Tate: Who knows what's going on with Illini? Not us.

Tate: Who knows what's going on with Illini? Not us.

No one can answer the most-asked question: "How will Illini football do this year?"

Face it, coach Tim Beckman doesn't know himself. This is a mystery. A polygraph test wouldn't help. And with Rantoul behind us, there'll be no more hints.

Sunday was our last view of what has now become top-secret preparation. You may need clearance to view the Red Grange statue up close. Stadium intruders will be handcuffed and blind-folded.

Beckman has an edge on Western Michigan because the Broncos don't know exactly what to expect Sept. 1, and he intends to keep it that way. Who can blame him?

If Luke Butkus reshuffles his offensive line, we'll have to wait and see. If Darius Millines has a gimpy shoulder, why tip off Western as to the UI's new go-to receiver? If the coordinators have gimmicks (like a tight end pass by former QB Eddie Viliunas) up their sleeve, mum's the word. If the rugby punt is still in vogue, why broadcast it? And in saying "we'll move Michael Buchanan around," Beckman isn't revealing where the rush-end star will line up.

Injury reports are strictly off limits. Doubly so. If somebody breaks his hand (freshman rover Ta'Jarvis Fuller will likely miss at least six weeks), Beckman doesn't intend for it to get out.

"We won't comment on injuries. We're not going to give out any information that will benefit our opponents," Beckman said Sunday before taking the team into hibernation (they're hiding, not sleeping).

All encompassing

What kind of head coach is he? Illinois has had all kinds. Lou Tepper concentrated almost entirely on defense. John Mackovic, Mike White and Ron Turner were virtually their own offensive coordinators. Coordinators made most of the Saturday calls for Ron Zook, particularly in the last two years.

Beckman's background is on defense but he pokes his head into offensive staff meetings and will switch his headgear to offense when the Illini have the ball. Defensively, he works directly with a rover position called "star," which is a hybrid linebacker-DB featuring Ashante Williams and, until he was hurt, Fuller. At the same time, he is deeply involved with special teams, and personally coaches a coverage position like an assistant coach.

"I try to be involved in everything," Beckman said.

"Offensively, we'll plan early calls which you'll see Sept. 1. As example, we may have four plays for third down with 7-plus yards to go, and we'll work on those so the players will be comfortable for what is coming. Defensively, we want them to know how they're likely to be attacked."

Be special

One exaggerating sideliner commented the UI hasn't returned a kickoff since Grange. We get the point. Scintillating kickoff returns and game-changing blocked punts haven't been associated with the UI. This program has a multi-year ranking at or near the bottom in special teams.

Beckman hired Tim Salem for this assignment and has the entire staff involved. But questions abound. The Illini kicking game is far from settled. Illinois has two scholarship booters battling the walk-ons, sophomore punter Justin DuVernois from Plantation, Fla., and freshman Ryan Frain of Indianapolis. Frain is showing a powerful leg at both. Meanwhile, Nick Immekus, a sophomore walk-on from Wheaton, got the jump on place kicking with an impressive spring. Those three appear to be the leaders among a half-dozen candidates.

Alex Golesh, who works with the specialists, said Sunday "I wouldn't be ready to narrow down the field goal candidates. Immekus was consistent up to Sunday when we rushed the units on and off the field — trying to simulate game conditions — and we didn't kick well.

"Frain has a big leg and he's working at both punting and place kicking. I'd prefer not to have a freshman do both, or all three if kickoffs are included."

Golesh said they're "still playing around" with the rugby kick, which receiver Ryan Lankford did on 19 occasions last season, averaging 39.4 yards on mostly against-the-wind bouncers. DuVernois averaged 38.3 on 53 punts last year but bungled attempts vs. Purdue and Wisconsin.

"Special teams is the only phase where the offensive and defensive players are on the field together," Golesh said. "We need them to take ownership. We should be sick of being last in the country. We're finding some linebacker and safety bodies for coverage ... some 220-pounders who can cover."

Every UI starter must play on at least one special team, excluding some of the linemen and quarterbacks.

Tate's afterthoughts:

— Beckman kept the UI's offensive play-calling job open to 32-year-old Matt Campbell until his Toledo aide received the head job there. Campbell began his career as a GA at Bowling Green in 2003. The current UI co-offensive coordinator, Billy Gonzales, was also at Bowling Green from 1995 to 2002, then moved with Urban Meyer to Utah and on to Florida. Gonzales stayed with Meyer through 2009 when he moved to LSU.

— Quarterbacks often reach mid-August with tired arms from all the passing drills. Not so Miles Osei, who keeps moving around at three positions while also holding placements.

— Two leftover questions from the Olympics. How many medal-winning athletes from Granada, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere trained in the United States, as opposed to chief rival China? And how much did Title IX play into the USA's 29 gold medals by our world-best women?

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports


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Ibleedorangeandblue_96 wrote on August 14, 2012 at 11:08 am

I think Beckman will win a big ten title in his tenure here... Who knows maybe more....

illinizeeman wrote on August 14, 2012 at 2:08 pm

In the end, the FI will be over .500 if:

 - they don't lose the overall turnover battle.

 - they are in the top 70 in special teams.

 - they can rush 130+ yds/game.

 - stay relatively healthy on defense

 - game day coaching proves to be a positive infuence instead of a hinderance


Moonpie wrote on August 14, 2012 at 3:08 pm

More wanking by Obi Wan Tate. He just has to poke fun at Beckman for wanting some privacy to build his first Illini squad. Simply a matter of Obi Wan indignant that he hasn't been granted some sort of special access -- a super secret handshake, perhaps. And after, all Obi Wan has always believed games should be played to an audience of one: Obi Wan Ttate, the only person good enough to appreciate the sport and know what's happening.

Jim in Blm-Normal wrote on August 14, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Beckman has an edge on Western Michigan because the Broncos don't know exactly what to

expect Sept. 1, and he intends to keep it that way. Who can blame him?

Gee, Moonpoopie

I copied that paragraph from Tate's story.   If you can read it, perhaps you could explain what part of

"Who can blame him?" suggests to you that Tate is demanding special access?

To those of us who can read, it clearly suggests that Tate is supporting Coach Beckman's

demand for secrecy. 

What is it that leads you to interpret the exact opposite of what Tate wrote?

I can think of three possibilities.

Total illiteracy, total dishonesty, or total stupidity.

Is it one of those?

peterborich wrote on August 14, 2012 at 6:08 pm

FYI Jim:

Tate has complained bitterly in past columns over Zook's private practices in a "how dare they keep the The Great Tater out"  tenor.  So, you have to take Tate's comment, "Who can blame them?" in the current column with a big 'ol grain of salt.  Ask yourself why Tate would even bother to write a column about Beckman's private practices unless it bothered him.  

Jim in Blm-Normal wrote on August 14, 2012 at 8:08 pm

I believe in reading the column and addressing what is written in the column.

For all i know you may have misinterpreted the others just as badly as this one.

Besides, he is stating approval at this time.  I assume that he means it.

Either way, it does not change that fact that she addressed this column and she shows no evidence that she even read it.   I find that inexcusable.

A university graduate should, at a minimum, be able to comprehend the column, identify the point, as opposed to the tangents, tongue in cheek comments, and jokes, and address the issue.  If she wants to criticize, she should be able to do so with a cohesive and logical refution.  I have never seen that from either of you.

peterborich wrote on August 14, 2012 at 10:08 pm

Jim:  please do yourself a favor and read Tate's columns over the past 24 months before you proclaim your blind allegiance to his written word in the current column.  By not knowing the history of   Tate's disdain for closed practices, you are not in a position to trash others rendering criticism based on fact.  

walker wrote on August 14, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Hey pete -  forget about 24 months, i've been reading LT for 24 years and your comments are

way off the mark.  No particular allegiance to him on my part.  But I believe that he is on the money

most of the time and his columns certainly do not confirm your rebukes.  Todays example (IE the closed practices, etc.) are a perfect example of how what you claim he says is not even close to

what he does, in fact say.   Dittos to mooncakes 

FloridaIllini wrote on August 15, 2012 at 10:08 am

Moonpie should change his name to Cowpie to more closely describe his comments.