Illini football: Griffith likes what he sees

Illini football: Griffith likes what he sees

CHAMPAIGN — Most Illinois football practices are closed to fans and the media.

But not to Howard Griffith.

The NCAA record-holder for rushing touchdowns in a game (eight against Southern Illinois), drove down from his Chicago-area home to watch Tuesday's workout.

"To me, this team is further along than they were last year," Griffith said. "You had the youth movement last year, and I think they will continue to build on that.

"Just watching the way they practice. Flying around, being engaged, you see them being coached up."

During Griffith's playing days, the Illini won at a high level. They earned bids to New Year's Day bowls and contended for the Big Ten title.

The team has struggled in recent years.

The last winning season came in 2011 and the Illini have five wins the past two years, with no bowl game since 2014.

"I understand how difficult it is to win," Griffith said. "When I see Illinois football where we are right now, it's the lack of consistency."

He sees signs of life. Including recent recruiting hits for Lovie Smith's team.

"When you see recruiting start to pick up, to me it's about the coaches and it's also about the stability in the program," Griffith said.

Griffith will be back for summer training camp with the BTN studio crew. Griffith, Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and Tom Dienhart take an annual tour of the 14 Big Ten schools.

During the 2018 season, Griffith will be keeping tabs on the Big Ten and Notre Dame. Why the Irish? His son, Houston, is a freshman defensive back at Notre Dame.

Recharging their batteries

The players and coaches returned after 10 days off for spring break.

"Whenever you take a break, you feel like it's been forever since we've practiced," Smith said. "We only have a few more practices to go. If there's something that we haven't seen from some of the players they want to show us, it's about the time."

"It's good to be back, getting going," new offensive coordinator Rod Smith said. "We've got to knock the spring break rust off. We've got a little rust going on."

Quarterback Cam Thomas practiced after missing the final workout before the break.

"He's fine," Rod Smith said. "We've got work to do. He's very willing. Cam is a very talented young man. We can do what we need to do with Cam. He's just got to continue to get better, keep developing and polish off some things."

Rod Smith said the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Thomas has the arm strength to make any throw.

"We've got to continue to keep working on the timing and accuracy," Rod Smith said. "That's just not him. That's every quarterback. The more he gets comfortable with our wideouts and our wideouts get comfortable with him, that timing will get better as well. It's not a one-way street. That's why these reps are invaluable. You learn by making mistakes. We correct them. The key is we don't make the same mistake twice."

Thomas is the lone scholarship quarterback in the spring. In the summer, he will be joined by four others: incoming freshmen MJ Rivers, Coran Taylor and Matt Robinson, along with graduate transfer A.J. Bush. Bush announced earlier this month he would transfer to Illinois after spending last season at Virginia Tech, with previous stops at Iowa Western and Nebraska.

"We've obviously created some depth and some competition in that room, which is what I wanted," Rod Smith said. "I don't want nobody feeling comfortable in there. I don't want them looking over their shoulder. But I don't want them thinking they're in a country club either. They've got to earn their stripes every day. If they don't, somebody else will earn that stripe."

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PortlandIllini wrote on March 28, 2018 at 6:03 pm

Seriously, didn't I read the exact same headline a year ago?