Line(up) shuffle begins

CHAMPAIGN — Breakdowns in the pocket.

Hardly any running lanes.

The two scenarios presented themselves in bunches last year for the Illinois football team behind its makeshift offensive line.

Talk for most of training camp and the offseason centered on the offensive line having only five players line up.

No shuffling. No switching positions.

Well, that may not hold up when Illinois trots out its starters against Southern Illinois on Aug. 31.

Not with right guard Ted Karras’ left ankle injury he suffered Tuesday during practice. In Wednesday’s late-morning practice on the grass field beside Memorial Stadium, the starting offensive line, at times, had Simon Cvijanovic at left tackle, Joe Spencer at left guard, Jake Feldmeyer at center, Alex Hill at right guard and Michael Heitz at right tackle.

Completely different than the projected starters, which had Cvijanovic at left tackle, Heitz at left guard, Hill at center, Karras at right guard and Corey Lewis at right tackle.  

“Again, because of our lack of depth at all positions, you’re going to see faces in there that got to step up and play,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “We’re going to have two freshman tackles that have to get reps and have to get it with the (starters). You’re going to get guards that are going to have to move around.”

Especially with Karras’ injury situation. Beckman said Karras saw doctors Tuesday night and was scheduled for an MRI exam Wednesday “to make sure that thing is healthy.”

“We’ll see how he progresses,” Beckman said. “Your whole goal as a coach is to get your best 11 out there on the football field, however you can do that. We went through that last year. There’s certain guys that can play multiple positions. Until we can get the depth built in this program, that’s the situation we’re going to have to deal with, but I’m happy with it. The kids are still working hard and doing everything we ask them to do.”

Heitz has 10 career starts at right tackle, and with the Illinois coaches limiting Lewis’ reps at times because the sixth-year senior has had five knee surgeries, he seems likely to play there if Lewis can’t go.

Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said the injuries won’t change how he wants the Illinois offense to run.

“That’s one spot I would venture to say every coach in the country is probably saying we don’t have depth at offensive line,” Cubit said. “I heard some of the pro scouts say the same thing. It’s just universal.”
 

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