Dorsey starting from the bottom, again, after tumultuous offseason

Dorsey starting from the bottom, again, after tumultuous offseason

URBANA — Lou Dorsey spent the spring by himself.

Sure, he had former teammates like Pat Nelson work out with him while he was still on campus, but the Illinois tight end was held out of spring practices, along with defensive end Isaiah Gay, for what Illini coach Lovie Smith said were personal, off-the-field issues.

So Dorsey finds himself in much the same position in his second training camp as his first. Last year, he was an incoming freshman working his way up the depth chart from fourth string to eventual starter.

This year, he has to do the same for an entirely different reason.

"I was doing it last camp and worked my way up toward the end," Dorsey said. "It's all mental. You've got to come in like you're going to take the spot. You've got to have that mentality."

Dorsey's mentality has changed, though, after his forced time away from the team in the spring. Getting back on the football field was important to him. So is staying there.

"Do things right," Dorsey said. "Do what I'm supposed to do and stop being hard-headed. No errors on anything. ... It means everything. This is what I want to do for my career."

Dorsey had the support of his teammates during his suspension.

"They were telling me to hold my head up," he said. "They were really keeping me on point, doing good things."

Dorsey's teammates and coaches also told him they need him on the field. The Jacksonville, Fla., native caught 22 passes for 395 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman in 2017.

He led the Illini in receiving touchdowns, and his yardage ranked as the eighth most by a tight end in program history for a single season.

Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith and tight ends coach Cory Patterson know what Dorsey can do as a pass catcher. They both were more impressed with a block he laid on freshman defensive end Ezekiel Holmes on Tuesday.

"He faced a kid up, which I haven't seen him do," Smith said. "He was trying to prove to the staff, 'Hey, I can be in there and put my face in the fan and mix it up.' I've seen him catch the ball. I haven't seen him do that. I want him to be consistent and do both. That's when he'll be a really good tight end."

That's been both Smith and Patterson's challenge for Dorsey during training camp. Tight ends have to do more in Smith's offense.

"I'm starting to push him a little bit because I want to see if he'll be that guy that will go in there and stick his face in the fan," Patterson said. "So far, so good. If he can be that type of guy, it's great for us. You never have to take a guy like that off the field."

Dorsey took some pride in that block on Holmes. The emphasis his coaches put on it also meant something.

"It isn't often for a tight end to pancake somebody," he said. "It felt good to do that."

Tight ends in Smith's offense could play one of three positions — on the ball, detached out wide or in the hip. Patterson wants versatile players, and blocking is a part of that.

"I got my weight up a little bit," Dorsey said about his offseason workouts.

His time alone in the spring was spent working on both speed and strength.

"I weigh 238 now," the 6-foot-6 Dorsey continued. "Now it's all about getting stronger — get about 240 and maintain that. Just be physical and know my steps and my placement"

Both Smith and Patterson have been pleased with the work Dorsey has put in through the first five days of training camp. They both said they've seen a willingness to deliver the required work. Effort that could go a long way in Dorsey working his way back up the tight end depth chart.

"He's learning what we're trying to do, and he's putting in effort," Smith said.

"I'm going to continue to push him to see what I can get out him," Patterson added.