Home > Uncategorized > Spring practice Day 2: Illini green, thin at linebacker

Spring practice Day 2: Illini green, thin at linebacker

A bowl win hasn’t cured all of the Illini football team’s ails this spring.

“My head’s pounding about the same as always,” Illinois defensive coordinator VIC KOENNING said Thursday.

The linebacker position might give Koenning the most headaches as he and the Illini coaches search for capable replacements for 2010 starters MARTEZ WILSON, anAll-Big Ten first team selection, and NATE BUSSEY, who was at his collegiate team’s practice Thursday as he continues to work out in Champaign in preparation for the NFL Draft.

Senior IAN THOMAS moves back to the inside after playing on the weakside last year and seems entrenched as a starter, but the Illini have little experience elsewhere.

Sophomore Jonathan Brown had promising moments as a freshman and has the inside track to the weakside starting spot, while junior ASHANTE WILLIAMS has a head start on filling Bussey’s spot on the strongside.

“Ashante got a whole lot of reps last year,” Koenning said. “I think he’s got a lot of potential. Athletically he’s probably a guy that can do more things than Bussey. He’s a different type of player.”

Sophomore Brandon Denmark moved to the inside, and redshirt freshman Houston Bates will provide depth. But Koenning said the young players will have to walk before they run.

“Obviously, we have a long way to go,” defensive coordinator VIC KOENNING said. “We got to get better. There’s a lot of fundamental things we have to improve upon.

“At the linebacker position you can hurt yourself so badly by using poor footwork. We have major concentration on just stance and start, just doing our footwork right. Especially when you’re in shorts and shells, you can’t really practice too much shedding and all that stuff but you sure can practice stance and starts and not get yourself out of position on the first step so it makes it harder to get to the ball.”

Keonning said the Illini will have to rely on true freshmen next year to add depth.


Day 2 Notes

The Illini practiced outdoors on the East Practice Fields on Thursday after spending Tuesday inside Irwin Indoor Practice Facility. The temperature hovered around 32 degrees when practice started at 8 a.m., but most of the players wore shorts and long-sleeve T-shirts under their shoulder pads. Even offensive coordinator PAUL PETRINO wore shorts in the freezing weather, though the sun peaked out to heat up the field at the conclusion of practice at about 10 a.m. The Illini’s next practice will be Saturday from 2-4:30 p.m.

Overall, Illinois coach RON ZOOK was pleased with his team’s second session. “We competed,” Zook said. “It’s like night and day compared to last year because we’re building on a system.”

Expect the Illini practice – which like all of spring practices is open to the public – to be in the elements, either on the East Practice Fields or inside Memorial Stadium, as the forecast calls for an afternoon high of 52 degrees.



Wide receiver ANTHONY WILLIAMS, a 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman, practice on Thursday after sitting out Thursday for academic issues. Williams bolsters the Illini’s thin spring receiving core, as senior A.J. JENKINS (wrist) and sophomore Darius Millines (foot) are sidelined due to injury.



A few players got into a very short tussle during Tuesday’s practice, but no such incidents happened today. Most of the players seemed to bring energy. But Petrino was the loudest during Thursday’s positional drills and new defensive backs coach MIKE GILLHAMER also ran around the field during 7-on-7 drills.


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