Pocic Gaining Comfort Level On Offensive Line

The Fighting Illini offensive line hasn't set the world on fire perhaps, but it is opening holes for the running game and providing protection for the quarterback. There isn't much depth, but the first group appears to be operating as a single unit. Center Graham Pocic must make all the calls for the line, and he is improving weekly in his first year at the position.

Graham Pocic was 4-star offensive tackle at Lemont High School. He arrived on the Illinois campus a semester early in anticipation of an early playing role. He ended up redshirting before serving as a backup guard last season. He was moved to center in the spring and has made the adjustment quickly.

"At first it took my awhile to get adjusted. But I had the spring and then the summer. Now I'm real comfortable with it."

The 6'-7", 305 pounder is tall for a center. Most defensive tackles are shorter than that, and pad level is an essential element in their battles. But Pocic says his height hasn't been a problem to date.

"Not at all. Akeem (Spence) is pretty short, but he's not like 5'-11" or anything. I haven't had to deal with a real short guy yet. I'm just coming out here every day and working my butt off. I'm giving everything I've got out on the field. And I'm getting my snaps down."

The center is the quarterback of the offensive line. He must call out alignments for his mates after perusing the defense. The change of offensive styles between last year and this complicated the situation.

"The offense before was kind of easier, but now we're more of a pro style offense. There's a lot more stuff I have to remember. It's a little more complicated. With repetition it's fine."

What does he think of the new offense?

"I love it. We really couldn't ask for anything better as an offense. Being able to check on everything the defense does, we have something for every single thing they do. So it's definitely really exciting.

Pocic received playing experience last year, but it took awhile to adjust to being a definite starter, especially in practice.

"Yeah. Coming in and getting all the reps in practice and carrying it into the games. Last year, trying to get loosened up for a series and then sitting out for two or three, trying to get my knees loose. But other than that it's just playing football."

One might think Pocic is more relaxed knowing he is the established starter now. But in his mind he must regain his starting berth every week.

"Every day we come out and compete. No job's ever safe, especially after a tough game like last week. Every job was back open. It's about competing every week."

It appears offensive line coach Joe Gilbert is a more positive grader than Pocic after a game.

"It could be better. My assignment grades are pretty good, but there are little things I see I need to get adjusted to that's holding me back. I'm playing pretty good, but I can always improve."

Illinois has relied on the starting five linemen plus one reserve. When Hugh Thornton was injured, Jack Cornell replaced him.

"Jack Cornell played very well last week. He came in and helped us out with Hugh being dinged up and all. Getting Hugh back healthy will help us depth-wise. Jeff (Allen) is playing real well right now, Randall (Hunt) and Ryan (Palmer) too."

Illini offensive players still lament what might have been against Ohio State.

"We did pretty well. We killed ourselves on some stuff. We could have run the ball a little better, especially throughout the first half. We really weren't happy with how we came out and ran the ball. One drive in the fourth quarter was the only time we were moving it on the ground. All the rest was passing. You've got to learn from it."

Ohio State boasts a powerful front seven, and so does Penn State. According to Pocic, every week is a challenge for the offensive line.

"From here on out, every front seven is pretty big-time. Every week there's gonna be adjusting to different formations. Every day we've got to come out and get better and learn from our mistakes each game. Hopefully win some more."

Pocic, whose brother Ethan is a tall high school sophomore and future recruiting prospect, speaks for the whole offense when dedicating himself to the rest of the season.

"The way our defense is playing, we should be 4-0. As an offense, we take it personally that we're not playing like we can. We're killing ourselves, and we've got to stop doing that. Coach Petrino put it on us this week to come out and get the job done."

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