Rantoul2012 XXIX: Mailbag 1 August 10, 2012
Finally sitting down to go through some mailbag questions. And by “sitting down”, I mean “sitting in the passenger seat typing on my laptop while my wife drives”.
The urgency I feel to answer every mailbag question before I forget everything is astounding. I woke up thinking about it. I keep refreshing my memory (“Nowicki at right tackle, McDowell mostly at left tackle”) just to make sure nothing is forgotten. With seven observed practices comes great responsibility. Or something like that.
To the mailbag:
Which backup/starter battle is the most interesting to you?
This is hard to answer, mostly because injuries play a role in most all of them. There’s a battle between Earnest Thomas and STEVEHULL at strong safety, but that’s mostly because Hull’s shoulder injury still lingers and he’s limited in practice (and wearing a green no-contact jersey). I’d guess there’s a battle for right guard between newly-moved Michael Heitz and redshirt freshman Teddy Karras, but Karras has been injured and Heitz gets all the reps.
So I’ll go with Tim Kynard and Justin Staples at strongside defensive end. I came to camp thinking Staples would be the guy, but I think it’s still a question whether Staples is strong enough – “holds the edge”, if you will – against the run. Staples is easily our second best pass rusher behind Mike Buke. But can he be an every down strongside? Or will he be a situational pass rusher? Whichever it is, Kynard will have something to say about it.
Who is coaching the receivers and is there hope the offense will be improved over 2011?
One easy question, one that might take 600 words.
Co-offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales is the wide receivers coach. That’s his specialty – he coached the receivers under Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Utah, and Florida, and then was the passing game coordinator (and receivers coach) at LSU.
Will the offense improve? That’s the season, right there. If we see the same offense we saw in the final seven games last season, we’re 4-8 or worse. If we can improve, maybe 6-6. Recapture the first six games of 2011? 8-4 or better.
Good as our defense is, I think Louisiana Tech will put up 31 points on us. Will we get enough offense to win 41-31? Wisconsin probably runs all over us, solid run defense or no solid run defense. Can we outgain them with a crisp, up-tempo spread? There’s the season.
The reason the question is so hard to answer is because we really don’t know what kind of offense we’ll run. Up-tempo like Oregon? A stand-deep-with-short-passes spread like Missouri? Tebow jump passes? Holgersonmania? We just don’t know.
So I’ll just say this. We’re going back to the spread, which is what Nathan Scheelhaase was recruited to run. He then spent his freshman and sophomore years running a multiple pro-set with some pistol. Will he flourish in our new scheme (whatever it is)? That’s the key.
Oh, and we have to find a few more receivers. And we have to hope that Hugh Thornton works at left tackle.
One more thing – we don’t have any upperclassman tailbacks.
OK, just one more. Only two seniors on the entire offense.
But if all of that falls into place, we will OWN.
My question is about Coach Beckman. You have stated that this camp is run a lot differently than Coach Zook’s camps. My question is, how differently are Coach Zook and Coach Beckman involved in the actual practices? Do they actually coach or are they more CEO types?
There’s several layers to this question. First off, 2009 Zook and 2010 Zook were two different coaches. 2009 Zook was much more involved; 2010 Zook was relegated to Special Teams Coach while Petrino ran the offense and Koenning ran the defense.
But if I’m comparing 2011 Camp Rantoul to 2012 Camp Rantoul, I’d say the biggest difference is intentionality. As I said yesterday, the practices are actually quite similar. Walkthrough, stretching, position drills, 11 on 11, etc. I’d imagine many practices across the country are similar. The difference, to me, is that everything Tim Beckman does appears to be intentional. Zook was more, I don’t know, random intensity.
Tim Beckman has a plan. He has an “Illini Football Manual” that includes everything from player expectations to Illini history. He has a meticulous schedule for every practice and meeting. He wants his players to say “yes ma’am” to a professor. He has dozens of meetings with his coaching staff to make sure everyone is on the same page.
As such, his practices grow from that. He wants to have a solid punt coverage team, so I’m guessing he lays out the 12 specific skills each of those players will need, implementing one per practice. The gunners learn swim moves one day and downing a punt the next. The three punt protectors learn how to spot an overloaded punt blitz. The main coverage guys learn how to shed a block. Each day, something else is added. (Please note that I’m only guessing here – I’ve observed some of these things and projecting that out over an entire August camp given the way Beckman operates).
So there you go. Beckman is intentional while Zook was intense.
As for the “CEO vs. coach” thing, I’d say the last two years have been similar. Beckman is involved in breakout sessions (linebackers over here, tight ends over there), but no specific position. During 11 on 11 drills, he’s in the catbird seat, looking on from behind the QB, similar to how Zook operated. The main difference I see is that Zook oversaw special teams the last two years, and this year it’s Tim Salem.
All of that to say this. Tim Beckman has a very specific plan. Down to the minute. Ron Zook, while organized in practice structure, didn’t appear to have an overarching plan. Shocker, I know.
You have commented on the changes that you see with coaching on special teams. But how about the other coaches and their approach to coaching compared to coaches you have seen in the past at Camp Rantoul? Is there more emphasis on fundamentals? Are they “yellers”?
I want to be careful how I answer this. The coaching staff is very accommodating to mediatypes in Rantoul, agreeing to interviews and opening up the practices to the public. So I don’t want to sit here and say “I SAW COACH BUTKUS CALL SHAWN AFRYL A COTTON-HEADED NINNYMUGGINS.”
So I’ll answer the “yellers” question this way. No coach in this camp came anywhere close to Paul Petrino, who probably needed to wear a “Max, can you earmuff for me?” tshirt.
Emphasis on fundamentals? Absolutely. I’d say nearly every assistant, from Jim Pry five years ago to Mike Ward this year, is obsessed with teaching fundamentals. The difference I saw this year was the general “football” things. How to grip a ball when you’ve scooped and are running to score. How to field a pooch kickoff if you’re an up-man (and every player learns this). How to cover up a fumble (and every player learns this).
I think those examples reveal the biggest difference. Coach Zook would have his 4 returners learn how to properly catch a kickoff. Coach Beckman has every non-lineman learn. So when that kickoff into the wind falls short and some linebacker is gonna have to catch it, they’ll be ready.
I know, crazy, right?
I have a 45 second wifi window here. Posting without editing. SOC mailbag!