CHAMPAIGN — Monday’s injury report from Bret Bielema contained nothing but good news.
Good enough that the first-year Illinois coach and his team will head into Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game at Purdue at as close to full health as it has had all season.
Doug Kramer? The starting center should be full go the entire week after missing Friday night’s home loss to Maryland while wearing a boot on his right foot.
Josh McCray? His trip to the hospital during Friday’s game turned out to be precautionary only. Bielema got word by 1:30 a.m. Saturday that the freshman running back was fine.
Chase Brown? Illinois’ starting running back could practice Tuesday, and if not then, Wednesday, before being available for Saturday’s game. Offensive lineman and Danville native Julian Pearl is on the same schedule.
And Keith Randolph? The hope is the Illinois defense gets a starter back on its line, too, before facing the Boilermakers in West Lafayette, Ind.
“I’m excited to hopefully get a little bit deeper and stronger at certain positions,” Bielema said Monday afternoon. “We are driven a lot off what we do in practice and the players that we’ve got to play with. When we get healthier and get more consistent with those players practicing, that’s when we’ll make big steps.”
Kramer’s return is rather crucial for the Illinois offensive line. It’s not a deep group — seven lineman have played — and Kramer is the anchor of that group. The sixth-year center’s presence is notable when it’s gone.
“I think there’s two guys on our football team, when they speak, everybody listens,” Bielema said. “Doug Kramer on offense and Jake Hansen on defense. Both of them are playing at a high level. … (Kramer is) very good at what he does. I’ve been around a lot of really good centers. He’s as good as I’ve been around.
“He’s a guy that plays really good to his length and plays well under pad level. He’s got great balance. He’s kind of like the old Weeble Wobble — they don’t fall down. He’s really sturdy and has got really good balance.”
Kramer’s projected return along with that of Brown a week after quarterback Brandon Peters did the same after missing two-plus games with an AC sprain in his left, non-throwing shoulder means Illinois could have its starting center, quarterback and running back all on the field for the first time this season.
Kramer and Peters started in Week 0 against Nebraska, but Brown was limited to five carries after backup quarterback Art Sitkowski took over. Brown also missed the Texas San Antonio game, while Peters didn’t play against UTSA or Virginia.
Peters heads into Saturday’s game at Purdue, however, following a rough re-debut against Maryland. The sixth-year quarterback completed just 10 of 26 passes of 185 yards and one interception, while taking six sacks. That included two sacks on Illinois’ final drive of the game to go with an intentional grounding penalty that led to a punt from the end zone and gave the Terrapins terrific field position en route to their game-winning field goal in their eventual 20-17 win.
“He did some really good stuff, (but) he missed a couple reads,” Illinois offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said of Peters. “By missing a couple reads, we left a couple big plays out on the table that could have made a difference. He’s (angry) at himself, and that’s what I love about him. He’s a competitor. He wants to do well. He wants to succeed at every play and make the right decisions. We’ve got to learn from that. I’m excited where BP’s at and excited for the future.”
The future still has Peters in the starting role. Petersen said it first on Monday. Bielema echoed that sentiment about 20 minutes later.
Peters earned the starting quarterback job through spring practices, summer workouts and in fall training camp. The shoulder injury didn’t change that last week when he was healthy to return against Maryland. And his struggles against the Terrapins haven’t changed that dynamic either.
Bielema admitted it was a cliché for coaches to say that the most growth happens between game one and game two, but it happens enough to still be true. That’s the opportunity Peters has heading into the Purdue game given the 13 snaps he took against Nebraska in Week 0 barely qualified as an appearance.
“He’s started games here in the past, but nothing comparable to what our offense is now or what tools are around him or the players who are available to him,” Bielema said of Peters. “I think he’s the one that would probably tell you — and the players that played next to them — everything we did on this past Friday to get to where we want to be Saturday can be better. That’s the goal.”