Tate: 'Two good units' show football's depth is dire
There’s thin, and then there’s paper-thin.
Lovie Smith’s Illini football squad falls into the latter category. Of course, spring numbers are always down because the seniors are gone and most freshmen haven’t arrived.
But the UI’s situation is extreme because a big group of 24 seniors departed. Then, too, Ke’Shawn Vaughn is among five scholarship players transferring, and 11 others aren’t currently available to practice: likely starters Chayce Crouch, Mikey Dudek, Kenyon Jackson and Stanley Green, plus Dre Brown, Dele Harding, Austin Roberts, Brandon Jones, M.J. McGriff, Andrew Trainer and Dominic Thieman.
The medical-related numbers may vary from day to day. As of Wednesday, Smith had roughly 45 scholarship players in his plans for the start of full-contact drills today.
After Jeff George Jr. at quarterback? Well, a walk-on and a converted DB.
Rebuild is here
“In an ideal world, we’d be two-deep plus but, as it stands, we can field two good units,” Smith said.
“We can’t worry about it,” Smith added. “We won’t hold a lot of scrimmages, but we won’t change our plans for contact. We aren’t withholding anyone who has been cleared to play. Those on the sideline aren’t ready.”
Discounting walk-ons, Smith looks ahead to a senior class of eight. Just eight. Two of those are junior college transfers Ahmari Hayes and Jordan Fagan. If they choose the four captains from that group, it’ll involve half the class.
Freshman Carmoni Green joins Malik Turner and Sam Mays as the only medically-cleared scholarship receivers for an offensive scheme that often employs three (step up, walk-ons).
With 300-pounders Eddy Fish and Zach Heath dropping off, offensive line coach Luke Butkus has 10 linemen (no walk-ons) for five positions. If freshman HoJo Watkins hadn’t arrived early, Butkus couldn’t field two units.
On defense, the participating ends stand at four thanks to new arrival Owen Carney and converted linebacker James Crawford.
It is understating the case to say that Smith faces a rebuilding situation. The 2017 UI team will be as young and thin as it has been.
Temps treat Illini well
Crowding at the UI’s indoor football facility was eased this week by favorable weather, which allowed teams to practice outdoors. If weather hadn’t cooperated, Wednesday’s indoor schedule was as follows:
Soccer, 7-8 a.m.; softball, noon to 3 p.m.; football, 4:30-6:30 p.m.; baseball, 6:30-10 p.m.; campus rec, 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.
More good weather, please.
Renovations down in Columbia
Missouri is running a south end zone stadium renovation on the same schedule — to open in 2019 — as the Illini.
Missouri has received nine gifts of $1 million or more amounting to $46 million, and all in an eight-month period while Tiger football and basketball teams have struggled. The project calls for $96.7 million, roughly the same as is needed for UI horseshoe changes, and sounds like the original Mike Thomas plan here: a four-story structure overseeing Faurot Field.
We should know within a few weeks how the original architectural drawings, favored by Thomas, were viewed by Josh Whitman and Co.
Illinois is expected to announce multiple donations of $1 million or more in the spring.
Ongoing problems in Minneapolis
You think the Illini have suffered distractions? Take a look at Minnesota.
Mark Coyle, who became athletic director after Norwood Teague was forced out due to charges of sexual abuse in the department, has had to deal with:
(1) allegations of sale-use of drugs by a wrestler;
(2) football players involved in sexual assault;
(3) threatened boycott prior to the bowl game;
(4) January firing of Tracy Claeys at a cost of $5 million for the coach and his staff;
(5) and the $3.5M per-year hiring of P.J.Fleck, who broke an unwritten law when he raided Western Michigan’s committed football recruits (I can name eight) to pad his new Gopher class.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.