Spring Football Burning Questions March 7, 2012
Spring Football starts tomorrow. SPRING FOOTBALL STARTS TOMORROW.
That’s all I have for an opening. Right to your Twitter questions. As many as I can get to before I fall asleep. Who am I kidding? I won’t sleep tonight. SPRING FOOTBALL STARTS TOMORROW.
@Olneyguy: What’s the first game depth chart look like at running back?
Thought I’d start with an easy one. Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson. And then whichever freshman looks the best in camp.
I really think it’s that easy. Ferguson is Lightning, Young is Thunder, and whichever freshman looks best in camp gets to be, I don’t know, Cumulonimbus Cloud. I really think Young will be the go-to tailback, but I can’t forget how good Josh Ferguson looked in Rantoul. Surprisingly quick. Tim Beckman said that Ferguson has officially received his medical redshirt for last season, so it will be nice to have him 100% after missing the final 10 games with an injury.
My pick for Cumulonimbus Cloud: Dami Ayoola. That’s Dommy Uh-YOO-luh for you pronunciation freaks.
@IllinoisRivals Position battles… who plays the other guard spot opposite Hugh Thornton? Third wide receiver after Millines and Lankford?
I like Alex Hill at guard. I said this from Rantoul last summer, but he reminded me of a freshman Jon Asamoah. Big and raw and probably not ready yet, but he gets out and moves on a pull and you’re all “check out the wheels on #52″. If this line follows the spread trend and goes for the quicker guys over the road-grader guys, I think Hill wins the spot opposite Thornton.
But I’m still not convinced Thornton will be at guard. If I’m Luke Butkus/Chris Beatty/Billy Gonzales/Tim Beckman/the equipment guy, I’m thinking about moving Thornton back to right tackle and giving Sands/Afryl/Karras/Feldmeyer a shot at the other guard spot.
At wide receiver, I think Millines is the guy. If his stress fracture is fully healed (a big if, given that he was in a boot last spring and then the injury came back during the season), I think he takes over for AJ as the go-to guy. Remember, Paul Petrino sat down with AJ last summer in Rantoul and told him “Millines is out-playing you right now – are you really going to let a true sophomore be our feature receiver?” (He didn’t).
After that it’s Lankford, as you suggested. After Lankford, I think it’s Spencer Harris. Not the world’s greatest route runner, but great hands. I think what he’s shown in practice will start to translate on the field next fall.
But my wildcard for the third WR spot: Jeremy Whitlow. Mostly because I picked him for my Asamoah Award last February. What’s the Asamoah Award? Every year on signing day, on a certain message board on a certain internet, I pick the lower-ranked recruit who I think will make a big impact. I started with Jon Asamoah, and since he turned out so awesome, I kept doing it every year. The only qualification is that they can’t be a consensus 3-star recruit on Rivals/Scout/ESPN – at least one service has to rank them as a 2-star or below. Because so many Asamoah Award winners keep transferring after showing promise, I really need Whitlow to come through for me.
Here’s the list, by the way:
2006: Jon Asamoah
2007: Ian Thomas
2008: Ugo Uzodinma (transferred to New Mexico with Locksley, starts at New Mexico)
2009: Walt Aikens (started as a freshman, kicked off the team as a sophomore)
2010: Jay Prosch (*snif*)
2011: Jeremy Whitlow
2012: V’Angelo Bentley
Let’s DO this, Whitlow (and Bentley).
@B_Heezey WR depth scares me. Who steps up?
Let’s keep this WR discussion going. After the three juniors (Millines, Lankford, and Harris) there’s Whitlow. If you want to know who steps up, I think it’s him. But there are many other options.
The next guy, if I had to guess today, would be Jordan Frysinger. I really liked him last summer. Short but quick. He’s probably still a few years away, but keep an eye on him.
There’s also Anthony Williams (who played, I believe, one play last year, getting a 15 yard penalty for a blocking someone in the knees – I think he was doghoused after that). But he’s got these huge hands that could be quite useful some day. Staying in the tall and lanky department, there’s also redshirt-freshman Kenny Knight. Fritz Rock will be a redshirt sophomore. Hayden Daniels will be a redshirt freshman. And next year we’ll add a couple true freshmen to the list. I’m not sure who might emerge, but there’s certainly a lot of options.
And that doesn’t mention the walkons. Jake Kumerow was Scout Team offensive player of the year two years ago and played a fair bit (mostly as a blocking WR) last fall. He was suspended from the bowl game for academics, but if he has that cleared up, maybe he’s ready to take a spot. And there’s also other hard-working walkons at practice like Peter Bonahoom. Maybe the next Jared Abbrederis is lurking somewhere in our walkons. OK, maybe that’s a bit much, but SPRING FOOTBALL STARTS TOMORROW.
My guess on the top-6 receivers next year in order of catches:
@gordyhulten How is FB recruiting coming for Beckman’s second class?
We’re never going to be Michigan (who has already given out 70% of their scholarships and might have to start pulling offers soon). I’d love to have 5 verbals under our belt already, but that’s never been how it works in Champaign. We’d have to build to get to that point.
You know how in baseball they say you don’t really have to pay attention until Flag Day? In football recruiting, I never really pay attention until the coaches go on their July vacations. The summer camp season will be over, and there’s usually a flurry of verbal commitments in late June and early July, so I always take our temperature at that point. In 2009, July was amazing (Terry Hawthorne and Nathan Scheelhaase verballed). In 2011, July was disappointing (Indiana and Iowa took several recruits we were chasing really hard).
So I’d say we can’t really say much until July is here and we can look at the number and quality of commits we have in the stable. And as far as the efforts Tim Beckman is making to build relationships with college coaches in this 5-hour radius of Champaign, well, I don’t think we’ll really begin to see the fruits of those efforts for 3 or 4 years.
@mikek9805 How do you plan to reverse the trend and keep the state’s top players at home?
I gotta be honest. I used Mike question simply because he asked me like I was Tim Beckman. Nothing makes me happier than to put on my blue Illini visor and act like I’m the head coach. I totally wouldn’t go for two in the first half, FYI.
How do we reverse the trend? Four things:
3) Build relationships with the top programs in the state and market the program so that Illinois becomes a viable destination for future in-state student athletes.
Just win, baby. Win, and people will want to join you. Win, and the Chicago papers will follow you closely. Win, and when the next Logan Tuley-Tillman or Kyle Bosch gets an offer on a Michigan visit, they’ll at least say “I’ll wait on that – I need to check out Illinois first”. Relationships are important. Good relationships with Illinois high school coaches is very important (more than most people think). But there’s only one way to reverse the Anywhere But Illinois trend: win.
@KMDuce Which LB steps up, Dickinson, Denmark, or Bates?
Well, for staters, I’m hoping Denmark isn’t at linebacker. I’m hoping he’s at
bandit leo, the term Tim Beckman uses for his hybrid DE/LB. Next year it’s mostly Michael Buchanan and Justin Staples at bandit leo, but the following year, I’m hoping it’s Brandon Denmark and Darrius Caldwell.
Which leaves me with Bates or Dickinson. I still have this “I hope Houston Bates bulks up and moves to defensive end” thing, and when I combine that with my “gosh, Henry Dickinson looks like a find” thing and my “Memphis linebackers FTW” thing, I’ll say Dickinson is the guy who makes people say “who is #48?” next year. For what it’s worth (and I think it’s worth a lot), Vic Koenning loved Dickinson.
So in a perfect world where everyone finds a role, I see the Memphis twosome of Dickinson and BadNewsBrown at WLB and MLB, and I see Houston Bates providing depth at DE, and I see Brandon Denmark providing depth at
But that’s just me trying to move players around to positions they might not be able to play. The smart money is probably on Houston Bates at WLB.
@detlef4uiad Will FightingIllini use FBI in short yardage situations? Who?
I realize this is probably a typo (or, more likely, an autocorrect), and you probably meant “FB” as in “fullback”, but I LOVE the idea of involving the FBI in short yardage situations. 3rd and 2, trailing by 6 at Wisconsin, and we send two FBI dudes with mirrored sunglasses to go protect Donovonn Young as he comes off left tackle. I want to name these guys. Irons and Murphy. “Murphy! Irons! Get in there and GET ME THAT FIRST DOWN!”
OK, fullback. Well, for starters, I’m not sure what formations we’ll use with the new offense. But if there’s a short yardage situation and we go full house with a few tight ends and a fullback, I see it being Zach Becker. If he’s fully healed from his injury and he receives a medical redshirt, I think he’s the guy who takes Jay Prosch’s spot. His backup would be Prosch’s backup: walkon Chris Willett. Willett was the transfer from Missouri who walked-off their practice field and walked-on ours. In other words, my hero.
@Fritsche12 Who is our Eric Page? Ferguson? Church?
For the uninitiated, Eric Page was Tim Beckman’s all-everything guy at Toledo. He was mostly a slot receiver, but they used him all over the place on sweeps and reverses and such. IIRC, they used that ever-so-popular fly sweep with Page last year (WR goes in motion and then receives the ball as he’s running past the QB).
In those situations, I do think you’ll see a lot of Josh Ferguson. He’s the one guy on the roster I could picture taking the handoff on a fly sweep and then using his speed to get to the edge.
And although he’s probably a few years off, I could also see Jordan Frysinger filling just such a role. He’s a true slot WR in my eyes, and he has the quicks. Maybe he surprises us next fall.
One other option I’d like to mention. We’re trailing by 6 at Wisconsin. Irons and Murphy helped Donovonn Young pick up the first down. You realize this is the perfect time to run a fly sweep to the wide side of the field and let one of our athletes create. You look for true freshman Devin Church or redshirt freshman Josh Ferguson to trot out on the field but you don’t see them. Wait. Can it be? OH MY GOD THAT’S TERRY HAWTHORNE’S MUSIC.
@IlliniMemphian Is Pat Flavin gonna see the field this year now that it looks likely that Corey Lewis will not?
Good question. If you haven’t heard, Beckman said today at his press conference that Corey Lewis re-injured his twice-surgically-repaired-knee and was in New York seeing a specialist. Lewis missed all of 2010 and 2011 with separate knee injuries, and now it appears he might miss his final season as well. I feel awful for the kid – he was supposed to be our starting tackle last year and this year.
So now it’s officially up to the underclassmen. I still see Michael Heitz starting at right tackle and Simon Cvijanovic starting at left tackle, if for no other reason than the fact that they’re the only two guys on the roster with any playing experience. Both show potential, but I still think both were forced into action last year a few years before they were ready.
So unless we move Hugh Thornton back to right tackle, it’s a four man depth chart. Heitz, with Scott McDowell backing him up, and Cvijanovic, with Pat Flavin backing him up. I think McDowell is closer to being able to contribute than Flavin, but that’s based mostly on size. Flavin was recruited for his potential – when he arrived he had only 250 pounds or so on his 6′-7″ frame. He needs to add 50 pounds, and I’m not sure he can put that on in 12 months.
McDowell was closer to 300 pounds, and certainly looks the part in uniform. But I always go back to my perfect scenario for offensive tackles. Recruit guys like Flavin and McDowell, have them do nothing but eat and lift for 3 full years, and then unleash them on the Big Ten as redshirt juniors. With Lewis out, not only do we not have any of these redshirt juniors I want, we don’t have any seniors. Which means we’re left with 4 underclassmen who are probably all finding the field too early. Which is a really bad sign if we want to improve on our shaky 2011 OL.
To answer your question specifically, yes, Pat Flavin will probably see the field next year. And in my opinion, that’s probably two years too soon.
OK, one more question. My eyes are getting heavy. Maybe I will sleep tonight. Thanks to all of you who Tweeted me questions – I apologize to those whose questions I couldn’t get to.
@GChums How do special teams change under Beckman?
We’ll return the ball.
I’m totally and completely serious. I firmly believe the biggest change you’ll see is that we’ll return kickoffs and punts and actually gain yardage. Like, guys will block and returners will run north-south and our offense will set up at the 31 instead of the 19. I know it sounds crazy, but for other teams, it actually does happen.
(The real answer here is “you’ll see offensive and defensive starters on special teams”. But the fun answer was “returns”. And I’m all about fun.)