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Inventory April 15, 2012

My wife ran a half marathon today.  Go-getter, that one.  I don’t know if you’ve ever cheered for someone in a half marathon before, but it’s a long, long, long time of standing around waiting for them to run by, and then four seconds of support.  “Good job baby keep it up you can do this OK she’s gone.”

Some spectators choose to encourage everyone running by.  “Great job – keep it up” times 1,300.  I am not one of those people.  I stand there and mentally take inventory of our football roster, trying to figure out our recruiting needs in the future.  I occasionally would snap back to reality and wonder if I missed my wife running by while I was listing off our outside linebackers, but then it was right back to the roster.

My wife set her PR. Inspired by that, because this is who I am, I think I’ll try to set a PR for “useful information contained in one post”.  I’m gonna need some of you to send me a few “good job – keep it up” cheers as I go along here.  And a Gatorade when I’m finished.

Our offensive roster, and my opinion on the future depth at each position (I’ll get to the defense later this week).


We’re in pretty good shape here.  Scheelhaase and Osei are juniors, O’Toole is a sophomore, and Chase Haslett is our freshman scholarship QB after a redshirt year.  We have one for each class (except for a senior), so we’re set for a couple years.  But it’s still important to bring in a QB in this class.  Hopefully a dual-threat QB that can redshirt next year, split time with O’Toole in 2014, and then battle Haslett for the job as a redshirt sophomore. Your move, Aaron Bailey.

Running Backs

We got our first glimpse of the new offense yesterday. First two plays for the Blue offense were fly sweep, fly sweep (for more on the fly sweep and its really good looking cousin, the shovel sweep, watch this video). I think we learned that this offense will be less power and more finesse.  They only showed us 14% of the offense (because the Western Michigan coaches were certainly watching on BTN), but I think what we saw tells us we’ll be a spread-y spread offense.  Which means a premium on small, quick tailbacks.

Luckily, we have a pretty good one in Josh Ferguson.  And a great still-on-his-feet compliment in Donovonn Young.  Both can be solid Big Ten tailbacks, with Ferguson possibly having the brighter future given the offensive scheme.  Behind them, three freshmen arrive next fall (Dami Ayoola, Lakeith Walls, and Devin Church), and the 2013 class already has another midget tailback (Kendrick Foster) on the board.  So that’s Young backed up by Ean Days, Dami Ayoola, and Lakeith Walls as the power back, and Ferguson backed up by Devin Church and Kendrick Foster as the more scatback type.  Depth, but probably lacks star power like Mikel or Rashard.  So if any star-power tailbacks want to give us a look, hey, we’re open.

Tight End

Probably the deepest position on the team.  Eddie Viliunas is a senior – former walkon QB turned scholarship tight end – and I’m expecting a surprising senior season.  Evan Wilson will be a junior (with two years starting under his belt), and Justin Lattimore is another junior with some experience.  And the two most talented tight ends are sophomores – Jon Davis (who they used all over the field yesterday from wideout to tailback), and Matt LaCosse (who just looks like that Iowa Tight End who has always killed us).

We could probably recruit zero tight ends this year and be completely fine.  We’re in great hands, especially with Davis and LaCosse.

Wide Receiver

The health of Darius Millines’ foot.  This should be the #1 offseason concern for all Illini fans.  If he’s healthy – and I know I sound like a broken record after repeating this weekly since Camp Rantoul last summer – he can somewhat seamlessly replace AJ.  No, he won’t be a first team All Big 10 selection, but I really do think he could have a 2010 AJ season (56 catches for 746 yards and 7 touchdowns).  Of course, after missing part of his freshman year with an injury, and then all of last spring with a foot injury, and then six games last season with a foot injury, and then most of this spring with a foot injury, you have to legitimately wonder if he’ll ever be healthy enough for a full season as the go-to receiver.

OK, one more trip back to Camp Rantoul last August, and then I’m done referencing Millines’ potential.  My thoughts from last summer after closely watching all of the receivers one practice:

One thing that is easy, in my opinion, is to watch individual drills. All 12 (15?) wide receivers will go through the same drill, so you can see who tucks the ball away the best, who comes out of his breaks the best, who has the best footwork, who has the best hands, etc. Here’s the awards I would give out if it was based on today’s practice (AJ Jenkins would win many of these categories, but he’s a bit slowed by a hamstring injury):

Best Footwork: Darius Millines
Best Routes: Darius Millines
Best Acceleration: Ryan Lankford
Best Hands: Darius Millines
Best Go-Up-And-Get-It: Spencer Harris
Best Stop-And-Turn: Darius Millines

Darius Millines Darius Millines Darius Millines. I always categorize these Camp Rantoul practices in my head by one significant event, and this was certainly The Darius Millines Practice. His most impressive play? 7-on-7 drill (no linemen), at the 10, Millines reaches the goal line, digs his feet in to cut back, and separates himself from Justin Green by 5 yards. Nate throws the out for an easy TD. Millines’ stopping and cutting ability was very, very impressive today.

So I think a healthy Millines gives us that go-to option at receiver. But what else do we have? I still think Ryan Lankford and Spencer Harris are options #2 and #3 at wideout. But with a spread like this, we need four or five (six?) options at wideout. I really have no idea who those guys would be. Fritz Rock? Anthony Williams? Jordan Frysinger? Kenny Knight? Jeremy Whitlow? A walkon like Peter Bonahoom or Tim Lukas? Incoming freshman Jason Robertson? Somebody is going to have to step up. Or we’re going to have to go recruit someone to step up.

Best case scenario, this next class has two wide receivers perfectly suited for a spread. After these three juniors graduate, I’m just not sure who the go-to guys will be.

Offensive Line

In short, I think we’re OK with interior depth and really lacking in tackle depth.

In my perfect world, every offensive lineman starts in their fourth year as a redshirt junior.  They’ve spent three full seasons eating and lifting and learning that playing offensive lineman in the Big Ten is a lot more complex than maul-and-brawl high school games, and then they’re ready for game action.  They play two seasons, and then hand off to the next redshirt junior.

For our tackles, we don’t have any juniors.  Or seniors.  We have two redshirt sophomores, and two redshirt freshmen.  (For comparison, Wisconsin has nine offensive tackles on their roster, and I believe every single one of them redshirted.)  So our two starters, Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic, are probably still a year away from when they should be finding the field.  That’s an issue.

We probably need three or four offensive tackles in this next class.  The good news: we already have two that have verballed.  The bad news: we won’t have our depth at that position built to a Wisconsin level until 2016 or so.

At guard and center, I think we have enough options that we’ll be able to find a winning combination the next few years.  Graham Pocic and Hugh Thornton are locks to start in this their final season, and a third senior, Tyler Sands, might start at the other guard spot.  But redshirt freshman Teddy Karras is probably ahead of schedule, and redshirt sophomore Alex Hill is probably getting close, and other guys like Tony Durkin show potential for the future.  There’s also Jake Feldmeyer and Shawn Afryl and Chris Boles, plus a few recruits coming in this fall in Joseph Spencer and Robbie Bain.  However it shakes out, I think we’ll be able to find a combination that will work for the next several years.

So for recruiting in the 2013 class, give me four tackles and a guard.  I don’t even have to have the guard – just give me four tackles.  And Aaron Bailey.  OK, fine, just give me Aaron Bailey.

*chugs Gatorade, stretches fingers*

jdl April 16th, 2012

Great job….

By your wife, that’s some good runnin’!

illini125 April 16th, 2012

Never realized we were so short on OT depth. Wonder how that happened? Did Zook just ignore recruiting them, or was he just having bad luck getting tackles to commit? The group of guards and centers is good though.

Steve April 16th, 2012

Amazing job, just what I’m used to you. Keep up the good work. C’mon man, you can do it. Dig deep! !

Lou-a-villini April 16th, 2012


GrogsBBQPepperoni April 17th, 2012

Ha! That’s awesome Lou.
Costanza (Lord of the Idiots): And suddenly a new contender has emerged…

rochillini April 17th, 2012

Great job Robert. Looking (writing) strong.

Duce20 April 19th, 2012

I heard that Pocic and Thornton might take some reps at T in the fall…

Groundhogday April 22nd, 2012

So if Pocic stayed center and Thornton moved to Tackle, would Hugh play left or right tackle? My guess is left tackle since that is such a critical position but he did play RT as a true freshman.