A Peek At Next Year – The Offense January 8, 2013
That’s the longest I’ve gone without thinking about Illinois Football. At least in the (nearly) four years of this blog. Even during basketball season I would always find time for football posts.
But after this disaster of a season, I needed a break. I needed to get away from it. I could barely look at recruiting updates in December, and I always look at recruiting updates in December.
The Cubit post broke something loose. I looked at a bunch of recruiting stuff today. I’m thrilled that my favorite recruit not named Aaron Bailey – Darius “I swear his HS film reminds me of Brandon Lloyd” Mosely moves onto campus on Friday to enroll early. (OK, fine, the Brandon Lloyd thing is mostly my hope that he’s another somewhat unknown defensive back recruit who catches a few balls at the first practice and finds himself starting at WR as a true freshman. But seriously – watch his film.) I’m also obsessed with pulling Peoria defensive lineman Josh Augusta away from his current favorite, Missouri. He visits January 18th. His last visit.
So tonight – OK, it’s mostly nervous energy before tomorrow night’s HUGE basketball game (against a HUGE opponent) – tonight I’m thinking about next year. About what the Bill Cubit offense might look like. About the long slow road back. So here’s what Cubit is looking at as he gets to know his new team:
First, the line has to be fixed. Gone are Graham Pocic and Hugh Thornton, which means there are two holes to fill. At tackle, we get a boost if Corey Lewis gains a sixth year of eligibility. After missing two and a half seasons with five knee surgeries, Lewis somehow returned last fall and looked decent (but rusty, of course). If he gets that sixth year, he’s in the mix at one of the tackle spots. Other tackles include Juco recruit Dallas Hinkhouse and Simon Cvijanovic. Tackles Pat Flavin and Scott McDowell are still probably one more year away.
At guard and center, I like Michael Heitz and Teddy Karras as the starters at guard (Alex Hill the first backup) and one of the young guys (Joseph Spencer or Tony Durkin) at center. Senior Jake Feldmeyer is there as a backup center as well.
So I’ll guess Lewis-Karras-Spencer-Heitz-Cvijanovic as the starting line. Second string – Hinkhouse-Bain-Durkin-Hill-McDowell.
At wide receiver, we have no other choice but to rely on the three seniors: Darius Millines (please stay healthy), Ryan Lankford, and Spencer Harris. Maybe we’ll get a boost from Juco transfer Martize Barr, and maybe true freshman Dionte Taylor will be ready to step in immediately. And since there’s such a big need, as I mentioned before, Darius Mosely might get a look there. Overall though, it’s a concern. We didn’t have a single receiver clear 500 yards last year.
The biggest question for me is what happens with some of our hybrid players (under Cubit). Beatty/Gonzo wanted to use guys like Josh Ferguson and Devin Church (missed the entire season with an injury) as both slot receivers and tailbacks. Will Cubit do the same? And what about Jon Davis? Sure, he was injured for most of the season, but he looked pretty good when he motioned into the backfield and ran over would-be tacklers. How will Cubit use a guy like that? Pure tight end? Big wide receiver? Hmmm… how WILL he use the tight ends? We have some experience there with Davis and Evan Wilson and Matt LaCosse. Is this the year the Illini finally use our tight ends?
Quarterback will be interesting. If it was still Beatty/Gonzo, Nathan is the clear choice. They’d want to run with him. But if Cubit wants a pocket passer, is it still Nathan? O’Toole? Does Aaron Bailey get some time there? Until we see what this offense looks like, it’s really hard to say what happens at QB. My guess: we stick with our senior three-year starter. For better or for worse.
Which leads us to tailback. We’ll have lots of options there, starting with Donovonn Young. I’d love to see us develop a way to get him to the second level so he can run through some linebackers. But Bama’s offensive line we are not. Can Cubit get the run game going? Young can be pretty good if he can.
There are other options. Ferguson as a scat/speed back. Dami Ayoola showed a little promise. Devin Church looked good in Rantoul but missed the entire season with an injury. LaKeith Walls redshirted last year and will get his first chance this fall. And we’re bringing in another scat/speed back from Peoria in Kendrick Foster. Surely we can find a rotation out of all these guys, no?
Don’t answer that. We just finished with the second-worst offense in all of Division I football (we have Mike Locksley to thank for assembling the one offense that finished worse than ours). It would be ridiculous to expect anything besides “worst offense in the Big Ten” next season. We’ve lost fourteen Big Ten games in a row, and the offense is the man reason we lost the vast majority of those 14 games.
Man, we’ve lost 14 Big Ten games in a row. Why did I want to talk football, again?