Matt Daniels: Hot reads from April 2 practice
1. Dudek running with the starters. Geronimo Allison and Mike Dudek stopped by where the Illinois coaches were gathered on National Signing Day.
The two wide receivers had finished a morning workout on that first Wednesday in February and wanted to check in on what letters of intent had arrived from their fellow Class of 2014 recruits. While Allison and Dudek didn’t have the customary Signing Day festivities other recruits may have had — although Illinois coach Tim Beckman had those two and the other early enrollees take part in a mock one later in the day Feb. 5 — their work this spring has led to Illinois coaches raving about the duo.
If the season started today, Allison and Dudek would most likely find themselves contributing significantly, Beckman said, along with returnees Martize Barr and Justin Hardee. With Allison transferring in from Iowa Western Community College, it was expected he could see the field early. Dudek, on the other hand, was more of an unknown despite his superb senior season at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville. The 18-year-old, who caught 69 passes for 1,384 yards and 19 touchdowns last fall before graduating early from Neuqua Valley, continues to excite the coaches.
“If you write a name in there at that (slot) position, that’s the guy that’s going to be playing that position,” Beckman said of Dudek. “He’s on our depth chart listed as the No. 1. He’s made a couple freshman mistakes, but he’s really come in and impressed us.”
2. G-Mo nearly full go. Allison has not had every opportunity to display his playmaking abilities this spring. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Allison, or “G-Mo” as Illinois coaches and teammates call him, broke his arm late last November at Iowa Western and had offseason surgery.
“G-Mo hasn’t scrimmaged yet,” Beckman said, “but we’ll get him in (for) some scrimmage plays this Friday night.”
Allison has donned a normal navy blue practice jersey for the two practices this week inside Memorial Stadium after having had to wear purple (no contact) and green (limited contact) jerseys for much of the first nine practices.
“Through the surgery, I didn’t lose any strength or movement in my arm,” Allison said. “It’s just a matter of letting it heal and taking the time off.”
Allison is glad he arrived on campus for this semester. Not only to help himself academically after he struggled with grades at Spoto High School in Tampa, Fla., but to develop a rapport with the Illinois quarterbacks and increase his strength.
“So far, it’s going pretty good,” Allison said. “I feel like I got an early head start on everybody else that’s coming in. It’s a big advantage. I’ve gotten adjusted for the most part. My goal right now is to get up to at least 205 to see how I move at that weight. I still want to be able to run around and be smooth.”
Allison and incoming recruit Tyrin Stone-Davis give Illinois two bigger wide receiver options the squad hopes to utilize this fall. Stone-Davis was set to enroll early from Pierce College in Los Angeles before academic issues surfaced, but he still is expected to arrive this summer in Champaign.
“He has great hands and great body control,” Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said of Allison. “He needs to get a little bit stronger, but athletically he’s got a twitch about him that you normally don’t see in a big guy like that. I’m really happy with him. He’s going to be a really good player. We’ve just got to get him up to speed in the weight room.”
3. Getting to the passer. The sight of an opposing quarterback getting sacked didn’t happen nearly enough for Illinois last season. The Illini compiled 15 sacks last season — or one fewer than single-season record-holders Whitney Mercilus (2011) and Simeon Rice (1994 achieved in their breakout years.
That total ranked 11th in the Big Ten and tied for 112th nationally. When it came to defensive linemen, only 81/2 of those sacks came from said unit.
Needless to say, increasing those numbers in 2014 is a priority for the Illini and defensive coordinator Tim Banks.
“Putting pressure on the quarterback is a big emphasis,” defensive end Kenny Nelson said. “That’s all (the coaches) really want, along with being physical upon the point of attack. That’s what Coach Banks always preaches.”
Nelson appears poised to start at the spot vacated by Tim Kynard, who registered 21/2 sacks last year. Nelson, a redshirt junior from Detroit, doesn’t have any career sacks, but Beckman said he has had a solid spring thus far, making gains in maturity and intensity.
“I’m improving on my technique and trying to get the other players around me a little bit better,” Nelson said. “There are people coming for my spot, and I respect that. This is what I’ve worked for since my redshirt freshman year. I’m just excited.”