Football Mailbag (Part II) January 15, 2011
Thanks again for the questions. Right to them.
Who is next year’s Akeem Spence? Who are the stars on defense next year? Does O’Toole get snaps in his own package?
Three questions, three answers:
1. The redshirt freshman who comes out of nowhere to have a huge impact will be… Earnest Thomas. No, wait, Houston Bates. Or Austin Teitsma. No, Earnest Thomas. I’m a little more excited about Bates at linebacker, but I’ll go with Earnest Thomas.
Why? Because if we’re talking “next year’s Akeem Spence”, then this player will be playing a lot. And next year, Thomas has a chance to take over the Sam Linebacker position with Nate Bussey’s departure. If Trulon Henry stays at safety, it’s up to Earnest Thomas or Ashante Williams to take over the spot. I’ll say Thomas. Or Bates. (Actually, you know what I’d love to see from Bates? 35 more pounds and a shot at defensive end.)
2. The stars on defense next year? I’m loving the cornerbacks. Recruiting-wise, who are the two highest ranked players on the entire team? Terry Hawthorne and Justin Green. Who are the two fastest players on the entire team? Terry Hawthorne and Justin Green (OK, and maybe Ryan Lankford). What two players do I think will take the biggest step forward in the second year of Koenning’s system? Terry Hawthorne and Justin Green.
I really like the potential of the secondary, with Green-Wilson-PNY-Henry-Hull-Sanni-Ramsey-Hawthorne. So much so that I want to think about Henry as a linebacker and Hull as a wide receiver.
3. No package for O’Toole. Only a redshirt. Redshirt redshirt redshirt. I want two great years from O’Toole, not one. Nate in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Then O’Toole in 2014 and 2015. Done, done, done, done, and done.
Rumors swirled about Coach Petrino being offered “big-time” OC positions that he turned down because he wants his next position to be as a HC. Now, do we expect Coach Petrino to take the first job that is offered? Can we see him taking a, say, Ball State gig? Or does he wait out for a lowly BCS gig like Iowa State, Indiana, Vanderbilt or any Big East school?? It’s a tough call and personally I think that he waits for the right job no matter where it is. I don’t think he’ll take a Ball State but maybe a San Diego State or Tulsa. And I think he’d be long gone for any BCS job. My guess is we have one more year with Coach Petrino. But now the tough part comes can we keep Coach Brohm at Illinois to be the OC or does he go with Coach Petrino to destination X? With Nathan really coming along I would love for us to be able to up the ante to Coach Brohm and keep him in house with the same system to help Nathan and the young receivers progress.
And more rumors are swirling with Gary Crowton leaving LSU for Maryland. I saw a list today of 8 candidates for the LSU Offensive Coordinator job, and Petrino was one of them. But I think he stays. And I think he may stay past next year, too. Here’s why:
This year, Paul Petrino was the highest paid assistant coach in the Big Ten (by a fair bit – he makes more than $100,000 more than the second highest paid Big Ten Assistant, Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst). He makes nearly twice what Iowa’s offensive coordinator makes. And he’s the 15th highest paid assistant coach in the entire country (eight SEC assistants and two each from the ACC, Big 12, and Pac 10 are ahead of Petrino).
His salary is also more than every MAC head coach. To take the Ball State head coaching job, as you suggested, he would take a $125,000 pay cut. San Diego State? He’d only get a $200,000 pay raise. And this is all before he gets his reported raise this offseason.
So as long as we keep paying him well, I think we can keep him happy. Yes, he left Arkansas so he could make a name for himself away from his brother, so he’ll eventually leave for a head coaching job. But the way we pay, it might be 2 or 3 years before he’s considered ready for jobs that would pay him more than he makes now.
And yes, when he leaves, I want Jeff Brohm to be the offensive coordinator. Same for the defense. If Koenning ever leaves, I want Ron West to take over. Continuity. Missing from Illinois Football since Mackovic was here.
I’ve seen a lot of rosier predictions for 2011. But with depth on the defensive side of the ball seemingly still an issue and a schedule that gets tougher toward the back stretch, do you think we stumble into bowl season the way we did in 2010?
I think a lot of the rosier predictions are based on the non-conference schedule and the 8 home games. We lost a lot with the juniors leaving, so depth is still a serious issue. For example, Koenning said he likes to play 5 cornerbacks and 5 safeties during the course of a season to keep a fresh defense. We played 3 corners and kinda-sorta 4 safeties. And I think it showed, starting with the Michigan game.
One thing we have going for us is the rebuilding nature of many teams on our Big Ten schedule. Wisconsin takes a hit with Clay and Watt leaving and they’ll have to replace their QB (probably a sophomore). Michigan will be changing systems on both sides of the ball. Same with Indiana. And Minnesota. Ohio State will just be getting their suspended players back when we play them.
Yes, if we can’t find defensive depth, we’ll probably fade like we did this year. But it’s possible that many of these teams will be fading with us.
Can we discuss the freshmen/redshirt freshmen DB’s? Fritz Rock, Ean Days, and the crew coming in… predictions on them?
OK, let’s group them.
Both Fitz Rock and Ean Days were kind of gambles. One was a high school wide receiver who had been out of football for a year, and one was a high school running back who we’re switching to safety. I’d say those scenarios work out about 50% of the time, so I’ll say that Rock develops into a solid starter by 2013 and Days is mostly a special-teamer.
Nick North and JT Thornton. Thornton is definitely a corner, North projects as a corner/safety. We’re pretty full at safety and thin at corner, so I’m putting them both here. Prediction: Thornton doesn’t redshirt and finds himself in the two-deep next fall, getting spot minutes at corner and playing some special teams.
Zeph Grimes, Carl Williams, and Dondi Kirby. Could I BE any more excited about all three of these players? On the ALE Excite-o-meter, the three safeties in our class of 26 all rank in the top-7. I’ll go with this for predictions. Kirby, the most talented of the three, is coming off an ACL tear. I’m giving him a redshirt year so he has 2 full years to recover before hitting the field. Which leaves Williams and Grimes. Simply based on the fact that Williams is still kind of looking around while Grimes is firm on his commitment, I’m giving Grimes the nod and making him one of the 5 safeties that Koenning will have in his rotation next fall.
Is the drop from Feed5 to Ford all that great? Take out the Northwestern game for Leshoure and it’s Mikel 5.5 yards per carry and Ford 4.8. 250 carries would still = 1,200 yard. #Feed21?
Yes. But no. And yes.
Yes, #Feed21. That’s the plan next year. Jason Ford has the talent and the experience to provide us with a very solid senior season, especially if he reports to Rantoul in the best shape of his life. We’re still an offense who needs to run the ball, and Ford is definitely the go-to guy next year.
But no, I don’t think he’ll get to 1,200 yards. 1,000, maybe. I see lots of “he gave us a solid 93 yards today” games in his future, not 330 or even 185. Ford will be solid, but not otherworldly like Leshoure.
So yes, it is a dropoff in my opinion. Jason can’t be compared to Mikel because he doesn’t have his vision. Leshoure has a sixth sense that not many backs have, and it allowed him to turn 4 yards into 33. One jab step, one cutback, and off he went. Ford can break tackles. And run over tacklers. And spin out of tackles. But he can’t sense a seam that will give him 43 yards instead of 7. Leshoure just has it. And we’ll really miss it next fall.