Offensive line coach Joe Gilbert and the Illinois coaching staff signed five excellent offensive line prospects in February. Chris Boles, Tony Durkin, Pat Flavin, Ted Karras, and Scott McDowell could form the foundation for outstanding lines in future years. With depth a concern this year, Gilbert was asked if any might see time as true freshmen.
"You don't want to use the freshmen, especially in the offensive line. It's hard for a true freshman to come in. But if you say who physically would have the mass and the size to help us out early on, probably a Ted Karras and a Chris Boles are two guys who right now are big enough to be able to hold up. Now are they strong enough? We'll wait and see."
Gilbert says both have more going for them than just physical size.
"Both are very physical. Ted's probably 300 versus about 330 for Chris. Chris is a little bit taller, probably closer to 6'-5", where Ted is probably more in the 6'-3" range. But both are physical and tough, and both move well. Both are very similar in what they bring to the table. It's just that Chris has got a lot more mass."
Benet tackle Pat Flavin is possibly the most publicized of the group. At 6'-7", he has the height, reach and foot quickness to excel once he gains needed weight and strength.
"Pat knows that's the one thing he needs to do. I think he's very realistic. As far as his athleticism, when he does get big enough, he has the long arms from a pass protection standpoint. He's got an NFL reach and height to him, it's just a matter of putting some girth on him, which I think he'll do."
Hinsdale Central tackle Scott McDowell has the versatility to play more than one position.
"He's an athletic kid, explosive. He just needs to get in the weight room to kind of change his body a little bit and get a little bit bigger and stronger. But he's another guy that has the flexibility to have a 6'-5" guard or a 6'-5" tackle. That's the nice thing about him. He's got the ability to do one or the other."
Gilbert has a special fondness for Durkin. And he won't be teaching him a new position.
"Tony's a great kid. I'm more excited about Tony because we got a true center in here now. He's a kid that has the athleticism, is smart, has done the shotgun snap. So you're not having to teach a guy how to take snaps.
"I get my butt ripped when the ball's going over the quarterback's head. So I'm excited about that. Out of all the centers I looked at, he's the first guy I wanted. We're very fortunate that we got him."
Durkin will also need time in the weight room.
Tony's probably about 260-270 right now, but hopefully he has a good spring and gets down here in the summer and puts on a little weight before we get to camp. But hopefully we don't have to play him right now.
"Ideally, you'd like to give him a chance to redshirt. This will be Graham (Pocic's) junior year. Hopefully he comes back so Tony can fit into the backup role and then hopefully has a chance to be the guy for 2 or 3 years. That's the progression that you'd like to take at every position."
Besides the offensive linemen, Gilbert was directly involved in the recruitment of slot receiver Jordan Frysinger, a native of upstate New York. That is Gilbert's old stomping grounds.
"What happened was, Jordan played lacrosse with my nephew. Jordan was a very good player junior year, but he had already committed to play lacrosse. He was one of the top lacrosse players in the country as a sophomore.
"He has an unbelievable senior year and my brother, who's back in that area, said you should take a look at this guy. My brother has only given me one other player, Michael Hart who played at Michigan.
"He played at my nephew's high school outside of Syracuse. Small school, everybody said he was too small including myself. We all know what Michael Hart did as a college football player for Michigan.
"When I looked him up, he was a very good football player. He can play in space and make people miss. He's unbelievable with the ball in his hands. I started talking to Jordan, and he was interested: 'Coach, I think I might rather play football than lacrosse.'
"When you watch him on film, he's got good ball skills. And obviously, with the ball in his hands he can make people miss. So it was just one of those things where you kind of fell into it.
"Credit to him and his family. When they got the offer and he committed to Illinois, other people started calling. They said, 'No, we're done.'
"He's a smart kid. Academically, that was the other plug. We got a kid who's a good football player and was academically eligible, no issues there. Knock on wood he comes in here and does the things we are expecting him to do."
In part three of his interview, Gilbert, who doubles as recruiting coordinator, talks about the most recent signing class. He shares current Illini philosophy on the types of players to recruit while also discussing how hard the entire coaching staff works to do proper evaluations of players so they won't have to rely on scouting services.