Dudek healthy as spring ball nears

Dudek healthy as spring ball nears

CHAMPAIGN — Mikey Dudek doesn't want you to forget. He's actually 1 for 1 passing in his Illinois football career thanks to a 22-yard completion to Geronimo Allison in the Illini's 2014 homecoming win against Minnesota.

That one completion does highlight a glaring hole in the Illinois roster as the Illini get set for the start of spring practices Monday. Only one other player on the team — rising sophomore quarterback Cam Thomas — has attempted a pass in a game.

There's work to be done this spring with Thomas the only scholarship quarterback currently on the roster and new offensive coordinator Rod Smith bringing in a new scheme for the Illini to run.

"He's definitely matured a lot this offseason," Dudek said of Thomas. "He's taken on more of a leadership role. We've been throwing a couple days a week together and hanging out off the field trying to build a relationship.

"If Cam's our starting quarterback moving forward at the start of the 2018 season, then we're all behind him."

Quarterback depth will arrive this summer with freshmen M.J. Rivers, Coran Taylor and Matt Robinson. Illinois could still pursue a graduate transfer quarterback, with one-time Arizona starter Brandon Dawkins at least a possibility to join forces with Rod Smith again. Until then, Thomas will get plenty of work with Illinois' new offensive coordinator.

How active Dudek's spring will be remains undetermined. The veteran wide receiver missed five of Illinois' final six games in 2017 with an undisclosed rib-area injury. That came after missing two full seasons following torn ACLs during spring ball.

"I'm healthy as can be, so I'm excited and looking forward to the 2018 season," Dudek said. "The idea is to go every other day or as I'm feeling. If I'm feeling good, I'll go. If I'm sore, I'll sit out that day."

Dudek would prefer to be on the field. This spring isn't just important for Thomas. Dudek might be the most experienced wide receiver on the Illinois roster — 100 receptions for 1,300 yards and seven touchdowns for his career — but he'll be playing in his third different offense.

"It's important for all of us on the offensive side of the ball because we do have a new offensive coordinator, new playbook, new scheme," Dudek said about the upcoming spring practices. "It's important for me to get reps with the quarterbacks and really get out there and run the new plays."

To that end, Dudek has been spending time with Smith off the field, picking his brain about the offense and studying the playbook.

"I'm a big off-the-field learner," Dudek said. "I take special pride in that. I have been injured and almost been forced to do that most of my career."

Dudek knows he has to become a leader on a young team. With classmate and long-time roommate Chayce Crouch stepping away from football, no one on the Illini roster has been at Illinois as long as Dudek.

"It starts with us older guys so the freshmen can see what the standard is that they need to live up to," Dudek said. "I've accepted that role of being the veteran on the team, and I'm ready to lead the team in 2018."