Justin Lattimore was a man caught in the middle this year. The redshirt freshman has the body build and athleticism to be more of a receiver than blocking tight end. Unfortunately for him, the Illinois offense in 2010 required mostly run blocking. He played in six games as a backup to Evan Wilson, but he should play more in the future.
Despite infrequent game action, Lattimore has been pleased with his progress.
"It's been going good. I'm catching on to more day by day. Watching film, preparing myself each and every day.
"There's been a lot of improvement since spring. Getting into the playbook during the summer, watching film studying Coach (Paul) Petrino's offense. It's been a good experience."
The slender product of Gaither High School in Tampa, Florida, has worked to gain strength and size to aid his blocking.
"I'm up to 230 pounds. You can tell a difference between the way I was in the spring when I was 220-225. I can tell a big difference with my blocking."
Still, most tight ends weigh 20 or so pounds more than Lattimore. Until he can gain needed strength, he will do what he can to help the team.
"Whenever my number is called, I'm just ready to make a play. That's what Coach asks me to do, so I'm just stepping up when my number's called."
Like many of his offensive teammates, Lattimore is excited about the Illinois offense.
"We've made big progress as an offense. We're clicking, things are getting learned on the right concept. Being on the same page with the quarterback, the line, we're all making it come together as one.
"We know the offense very well now, so we don't have to think about it as much. We're very excited for the future. There's a lot of potential."
The Illini defense provides multiple looks for the offense in practice. It has been excellent preparation for the schemes different opponents prefer.
"That's been coming along pretty good. They give us some different looks, some stuff we've never seen before. But we're making the progress of adjusting to what the defense shows us, just trying to make plays off of that."
Lattimore likes his tight end coach Chip Long, completing his first year after succeeding Greg Nord.
"He's a good guy. He's a lot like Petrino. He has a passion for the game. He lets us know when we're wrong. He expects the best out of us. He's a lot similar to Nord."
Lattimore will continue to work on refining his game and becoming an all-around tight end who can help both with receiving and blocking. He doesn't limit the techniques he wishes to improve.
"A little bit of everything. You are never at the best of what you do. You've just got to improve every aspect of your game. Nothing about my game is perfect. I'm just getting better at every aspect to be a better tight end."
After the SIU game where Lattimore caught his touchdown pass, Petrino was excited for him.
"That was a real good thing because he's really improved. He's done a lot better in practice, so it was good to see that."