Wednesday Mailbag (Part II) August 17, 2011
Considering our Zook era punt return woes, is there any reason to see improvement this season?
I figured I’d look up the statistics first. Here’s where Illinois has ranked nationally in punt return yardage in Ron Zook’s 6 seasons (national ranking out of 120 teams):
Is there reason to see improvement this season? Well, there’s only 3 spots below 117th, so….
In all seriousness, all hope lies with the Black Cat. If there’s a player that can make something of our punt return unit, it’s Hawthorne. He’s such an electric athlete that if we can give him some room, he can make something happen.
Question is… can we give him any room? When was the last time anyone remembers an Illini player catching a punt with room to make something happen? I seriously can’t even picture a non fair-catch punt return last year. I mostly remember repeating “just catch it” under my breath.
So I guess my answer is no. Unless a healthy Hawthorne is a game changer.
I’d love your take on the TE situation. Are Wilson, Lattimore and Viliunas as the top 3 on the depth chart? How do Lacosse and Davis fit in? Will Becker get on the field in that spot like the plan was a couple years ago? Will they get the ball? Redshirts?
It’s hard to tell right now with Wilson and Davis nicked up. Both players had minor injuries in Sunday’s scrimmage, so neither player has participated in anything this week.
This has led to a lot – A LOT – of Matt LaCosse running with the first string. It reminds me of Camp Rantoul last year where Evan Wilson was always getting the ball. They’ll rotate 15 receivers, including most of the walk-ons, when they’re going through 11 on 11 drills. But I swear for the last two days, Matt LaCosse is getting 75% of the tight end snaps.
LaCosse is a very athletic kid, but he learned how to block 9 days ago. How much he plays depends on how quickly he learns to block (same goes for the freshmen tailbacks too). Because of that, here’s how I see it.
When we go with our standard offense, it’s Evan Wilson at tight end and either Viliunas or Becker at the second, blocking, h-back position. When we want to throw in a few different looks, we’ll put LaCosse at TE or Davis at h-back and get a little crazy.
How does Hull look? It sounds like he is always hurt and playing on a bum ankle. Will we have any real FS?
I’m a big fan. I feel better about the safety position simply from watching Steve Hull read formations in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills the last two days. He seems to always be in position.
I think that when all the dust settles and the Arkansas State game arrives, we’ll start Steve Hull and Supo Sanni at safety, with PNY being the third guy off the bench and Jack Ramsey the fourth. Those backups aren’t nickel safeties, mind you – when we go to the nickel, Tavon Wilson slides over and takes that spot. But I really think it’s Hull and Sanni with PNY third.
Seems like people feel pretty good about our LB depth. It is probably too late now, but given the confidence in that position, and the issues at safety, did moving Trulon really make sense? Or are none of those backup LB’s viable options for the Bussey spot?
Correct – none of the backup linebackers are viable options. I know it gets confusing because it carries the word “linebacker” in the title – that’s the reason I’m in full support of calling the position “stinger” – but the Sam Linebacker in this defense doesn’t even practice with the linebackers. Vic Koenning coaches the linebackers – Ron West coaches the “hybrid” players: Bandit and SLB.
We couldn’t take Houston Bates and just move him over to Sam. It’s a different set of responsibilities with a different skill set required. It would be similar to moving AJ Jenkins to tight end because all guys who catch passes should be able to play all pass-catching positions – the two positions aren’t really similar.
So yes – in my opinion, moving Trulon made perfect sense to me. And I’m not saying that just because I was begging for it to happen last January. Ashante is out, Earnest Thomas probably isn’t ready, and Trulon has a skill set very similar to Nate Bussey. I like the move, and I think Trulon can thrive there once he starts to feel comfortable.