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Spring Mailbag – Part II April 19, 2013

As the Buckeye’s are generally considered the gold standard of the B1G, I would be curious to know if you feel any of our 2013 starters would be good enough to make the 2-deep at OSU? Okay, how about the 3-deep? Maybe 2-3 guys?

Since I like comparing us to OSU, can you arrange a call between Gene Smith and Mike Thomas to swap 2013 non-conference schedules? Ours would really help the Buckeye’s case to get into the NC game and offers exposure in the Chicago market. Their’s would give us a chance to eke out maybe 3 wins. Sounds like a good deal to me.
~ Andy

Man, this was the perfect question for the fall of 2010. We’re coming off a 3-9 season, and I could have said “easy – Whitney Mercilus, Corey Liuget, Martez Wilson, Tavon Wilson, Jeff Allen, AJ Jenkins, and Mikel Leshoure would all start for the Buckeyes” and you would have been all WE WERE 3-9 LAST YEAR and I would have been “Ron Zook gave Leshoure three carries in the Michigan State game last year” and then you could have been like “WHAT??” and I would have gone “Remember when we lost to Fresno State after we got the ball back with the lead with three minutes to go and instead of having Mikel Leshoure get the one first down we needed to run out the clock Zook and Reggie Mitchell decided on Jason Ford because ‘it was his turn’?”

Sorry – got lost in a timewarp. To your question: I really can’t think of one. Had Jonathan Brown been healthy last year and built on his 2nd-team-all-B1G sophomore campaign, then I’d pick Brown. But we haven’t seen that Brown since 2011 (and we still didn’t see that Brown this spring because he’s still injured), so I don’t think I can pick him. Mason Monheim would probably be in their top-6 rotation at linebacker, but likely on the second string.

On offense, I can’t really think of many. Jon Davis is probably their second string tight end. Donovonn Young is in the rotation at tailback. Darius Millines has all world athleticism, and I’ve seen him look like an All Big Ten receiver in practice, but he’s always injured or suspended. And, if the rumors floating around on message boards yesterday are true, his spring suspension is going to turn into “Millines is no longer with the team”.

WAIT. Justin DuVernois was 3rd in the Big Ten in net punting last year. And Ohio State’s guy was 6th. And I think the Ohio State guy graduated. So yes, Justin DuVernois would be the starting punter at Ohio State. Eat your heart out, Suckeyes!

As for the schedule, yes, we’re still getting Guenther’d, even almost two years after he left. If you asked him, I think he’d be proud of the fact that he set up games with Cincinnati and Washington while Ohio State plays Buffalo, San Diego State, and Cal. He’d want high fives for not being a pansy. He would actually see our schedule as a positive and Ohio State’s as a negative.

And now you see why we played the toughest non-conference schedule of any FBS team since 2000. And now you see why I have to move on to the next question on the advice of my blood pressure doctor.

We all know that we can’t simply look at our record this fall to see if the team has improved and/or if it’s worth keeping Beckman around. Based on not only last year’s performance but what you’ve seen so far, what specifically will you be looking for on a game-by-game basis to determine if the arrow is pointing up? Could be a simple list of things, could be a whole post…up to you!
~ BKenny

This is a hard question. My initial reaction is to say penalties and turnovers. Limit the dumb mistakes and it tells me that this coaching staff can get their players to focus.

But then I realize that this will be our least experienced team since maybe 2003. Only 10 seniors, lots of sophomores and even some freshmen in the starting lineup. We’re experienced at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, and linebacker, and that’s it. When you have that much youth, you’re simply going to make mistakes. Both penalties and turnovers.

So my eye test is going to center around hope. Just show me some things that tell me the plan is working. Which include.

1) At Illinois, it’s nice to hire a coordinator on the way down. If we hire a young coordinator who really knows what they’re doing, they’ll be snatched up by a bigger school immediately. But when we hire a coordinator on the way back down – climbed all the way to head coach, had a decent tenure, fell apart last year and got fired – then there’s a chance they might stick around for a long time. And I’ve been waiting years for a coordinator to stick around for a long time (like Norm Parker at Iowa or Mick McCall at Northwestern). So for the first thing, show me Cubit is the guy.

2) Show me that the 2013 class has much more talent than 2010, 2011, and 2012. Show me that Beckman’s staff has an eye for talent. As I’ve mentioned before, I think the world of Alex Golesh. He gets it. Seriously gets it. Understands what it takes to build a roster that can compete in the Big Ten. I put him above even Reggie Mitchell as far as recruiting coordinators go. So show me some more in recruiting – more guys like Bailey, Mosely, James, Clements, and Day.

3) Fight. Young players will make mistakes, but don’t give me a team that folded like last year. That was the biggest difference in the two sides of Kirby Ave. this past year. Guys on the south side FOUGHT when the going got tough. Guys on the north side fell apart. So much of that is on the coaching. I’m willing to give the north side some slack given the roster holes and the injuries. But I need to see some fight this fall.

Secondary still looked suspect in Spring Game. Have the coaches indicated how they’ll try to hide deficiencies?
~ Brian

I’m not sure we can. How do you hide inexperience? Again, as I mentioned in that Q&A I did with that Big Ten blog yesterday, when Beckman got the job, and he looked at the scholarship players in the secondary, here’s what he saw:

Terry Hawthorne (SR)
Justin Green (SR)
Jack Ramsey (SR)
Supo Sanni (SR)
Patrick Nixon-Youman (SR)
STEVEHULL (JR)
Eaton Spence (FR)
Nick North (FR)

He moved Earnest Thomas from Sam linebacker to safety, and he recruited some guys in his first six weeks on the job, but the 2013 Illini Secondary table was set long before he arrived. The only scholarship senior is my boy Ben Mathis, who just moved from walkon to scholarship player this year. The only juniors are Thomas (who moved from linebacker) and the juco guys we brought in like Zane Petty. We’ll start two sophomores at corner with two freshman playing a lot of backup minutes there (and they have to – no juniors or seniors). One guy – ONE GUY – on our secondary two deep (Eaton Spence) was in that chair 15 months ago. And he was a redshirting freshman at the time.

I’m not sure I can emphasize how green that is. I’ve never seen anything like it for any Illini position group in my 25+ years of obsessing over this team. The only comparison I can make is maybe SMU after their death penalty when all of their position groups were like this. Not a single player with much game experience at all, and most all of them freshmen and sophomores, but hey – good luck guys.

There’s no way to hide that. There’s nothing you can do. You find walkons and juco guys who can maybe fill the holes. And then you pray.

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2 Comments
bkenny April 19th, 2013

Millines is indeed transferring

Illinigrad April 20th, 2013

“We’re experienced at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, and linebacker, and that’s it.”

Robert: Why didn’t you include running back? We have two pretty good guys.