CHAMPAIGN — Bret Bielema disseminated his first spring football plan as Illinois’ coach during a Thursday morning Zoom call.
Doing so in a way even the most casual of fans could understand.
“We’ll practice every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we’ll have a time where we can review the film ... and also continue their physical development with Tank (Wright) and recovery,” said Bielema, referencing his strength and conditioning coach. “For us to have success in the fall, we need to start the right way ... (and) get better in these 15 practices.”
That spring schedule begins next Tuesday and continues through most of April. Among the final pieces is the Orange and Blue Spring Game, slated for 7 p.m. on April 19 at Memorial Stadium.
Bielema’s explanation of that date selection should sit well with Illini fans, who can watch the game on BTN.
“One of the main reasons to go Monday night football, for me, was to promote the Block I,” Bielema said. “To get our word out there. To let people see our brand in a time slot that we really wouldn’t be competing with any other teams.”
Bielema laid out numerous details about his inaugural spring session in charge of the Illinois program, also addressing how he’s felt about the last eight weeks he’s spent with the Illini.
“I like the early returns,” Bielema said. “They’re getting around our coaches more and more on a daily basis. ... You can just see them feeding off the energy of what we’re trying to provide for them.”
Bielema also has worked on getting to know his athletes better, though he acknowledged more personal get-togethers will follow the conclusion of spring ball.
“I’ll meet with every one of them individually on academics, athletics and social being,” Bielema said. “They’ll have a ... checkout with each of their positional coaches to make sure all the details of where they’re going to be, who they’re going to be living with, what they’re going to be around, contact info.
“It’s a way to wrap up the spring and set the tone for where we want to be in the fall.”
Bielema said the team will meet Saturday to pore over how spring practices are structured, before Bielema physically walks the players along the field to better understand just how those practices will look.
“When we get that two hours out there together, it needs to be just smooth, humming,” Bielema said.
Which field the Illini work out on also is up for a decision.
“We’ve got an indoor practice facility, we’ve got a grass field and we’ve got a stadium,” Bielema said. “I want to figure out the best one for us to get the best results.”
Bielema said he anticipates each Saturday being Illinois’ “heaviest work day” — a fitting choice, given that’s when the Illini will play all of their games during the 2021 season. This coming Tuesday and Thursday will feature helmets-only practices for Illinois, followed by the squad’s initial workout in pads on March 27.
“We won’t necessarily have a scrimmage, but we’ll definitely get after it and it’ll be the most physical thing they’ve done to that point,” Bielema said. “Then it’s really how their bodies respond.”
Bielema noted that he and his staff haven’t actually seen how the Illini perform with “a little brown ball out there yet” — not including Bielema’s live viewing of the Dec. 19 game at Penn State, the day Illinois hired him.
“Sometimes guys look good in drills, but they don’t do great in skills,” Bielema said. “Tuesday will be a little bit of an indication. Thursday will be better. But then Saturday, when we put the pads on, that’s when separation usually occurs.”
Bielema said he’s excited with how the players have responded to his plan for their first eight weeks together. But he’s even more interested to see what transpires the rest of this month and through the first half of April.
“It’s fun to see new guys emerge,” Bielema said. “It’s going to be interesting to see those who go forward, maybe those who plateau. ... We’ll have a few positional changes, I’m sure, before we get done with spring ball. So it’s all going to be, hopefully, moving forward.”