Matt Daniels: Hot reads from Wednesday's practice
1. Tight end limbo. The tight end situation isn’t ideal right now for Illinois. Starters Matt LaCosse (ankle) and Jon Davis (elbow) are dealing with injuries.
Davis is out the rest of spring ball, and tight ends coach Alex Golesh isn’t certain if LaCosse will play in the spring game April 12.
“It’s getting the younger guys a lot of reps,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said.
Enter Tyler White, Tim Clary and Dallas Hinkhouse.
White, a sophomore, didn’t catch a pass last season and contributed more on special teams.
Clary had one reception for 33 yards against Southern Illinois in the season opener, and Hinkhouse redshirted after he was recruited to Illinois as an offensive tackle before switching to tight end this spring.
“A positive is that White can keep developing,” Golesh said. “I think Tyler is going to be a really good player. Clary is developing, and, really, Dallas is giving us a little bit more than I ever thought he would. It’s been a blessing in that sense. In a negative sense, we’re a way different offense.”
2. Safety first. Free safety Zane Petty can relate to what Darwyn Kelly is going through now. Kelly was competing for a backup role among the safeties. But he spent Wednesday morning’s practice watching while seated in the recruiting lounge at Memorial Stadium, with his right foot propped up on a table and with crutches nearby.
Beckman said Kelly is out for the rest of the spring, but he’s optimistic Kelly should return fully healthy by fall camp.
Petty, who missed last spring with a shoulder injury, is about the only proven commodity Illinois has at safety now. Taylor Barton and Jevaris Little are competing at strong safety because Earnest Thomas is playing the STAR position.
“I feel more confident going into this spring because last year going into camp I was fighting for a spot,” Petty said. “Every day was a struggle of trying to show that I could win that spot. Now that I have it, I’m just trying to make sure that I’m making plays and keeping the spot.”
3. Odds and ends. Illinois went through a full scrimmage Wednesday morning. The winners received breakfast sandwiches from McDonald’s, with the losers not getting any. Dwight Miller, who owns several area McDonald’s restaurants, was on hand.
— Wes Lunt knows his allegiances are with Illinois now. But that doesn’t mean the former Oklahoma State quarterback isn’t keeping an eye on what the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team does against Gonzaga in its second-round NCAA tournament game Friday afternoon.
“I’d be rooting for Illinois if they were in it, but Oklahoma State is a really good and really talented team,” Lunt said. “I watched them play a lot when I was there.”
So Lunt saw plenty of Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State’s premier guard who is a projected lottery pick this June in the NBA draft. Lunt said Smart is more popular in Stillwater, Okla., compared to whoever the starting quarterback at Oklahoma State is.
“He’s Marcus Smart,” Lunt said with a laugh. “He and some of the other guys really changed the basketball program there.”
Lunt said he was shocked about Smart’s behavior last month at Texas Tech, where he went into the crowd and shoved a fan, which drew a three-game suspension.
“That’s not the Marcus I’ve met,” Lunt said. “He’s a really nice guy, and I’ve never heard or seen him do anything wrong like that until it happened.”
— Beckman said defensive tackle Teko Powell (foot), defensive end Paul James (team rules violation) and center Tony Durkin (shoulder) should return to practice soon. Illinois holds a practice Friday morning on campus before spring break starts next week, which means Illinois won’t practice again after Friday until March 31.