Illinois has been fortunate in the injury department so far this spring. Several Illini players have sustained minor injuries, but all should be healthy by fall. The most recent problem occurred to Whitney Mercilus, who will likely miss the Spring Game after smashing his finger in a weight lifting accident Sunday.
Troy Pollard wore a red jersey to prevent hits. He hopes to be fully recovered from his mild concussion by the end of the week. Jason Ford practiced but retweaked the same knee that caused him problems earlier. He may now be held out of the Spring Game as a precaution.
The running back corps has seen several changes since the beginning of spring. When Ford and Golden went down, Ean Days moved to offense and appears comfortable there. Walkon Arshan Pouladdej had a great run in a Wednesday scrimmage but is now on crutches after sustaining a high ankle sprain.
When Pollard sat down last Saturday, fullback Jay Prosch took reps at running back and made a big impression. He did more of the same Tuesday. People are now talking future NFL player, but the position remains to be seen. He's definitely a talented fullback, but his running and receiving ability may add him to the running back mix. He's be a fine linebacker if not needed on offense.
The format for the Spring Game is uncertain right now as the coaches figure out if they have enough bodies to field two separate teams for both offense and defense. They might decide to play offense versus defense instead.
When the team went to 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 work, several players made big plays Tuesday. Ryan Lankford made a great sideline grab of a Nathan Scheelhaase pass. Scheelhaase hit Anthony Williams in stride on a long crossing route.
The Illini practiced specific pass plays repeatedly. For instance, flooding one cornerback's area with two receivers and the quarterback hitting the one not covered. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino reiterates the highest priority for the offense.
"Execution. Continue to understand the offense and getting all the little details down. Doing exactly what you're supposed to do on every single play. We expect perfection. We want it on every play. If we don't get it, we're not gonna be happy."
The defense responded Tuesday with several big plays also. Those who broke up passes included Ashante Williams, Brandon Denmark, Earnest Thomas and Justin Green. Green blew up Lankford on the play. Ian Thomas and Tim Kynard both were credited with sacks.
Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning is a perfectionist also. He continues to worry about the defense.
"What happens in spring practice, guys start counting, they look at this and that. We need to take every day and get as good as we can get, not worry about the next day.
"Take one day at a time. Focus on trying to get better, that's a constant struggle. Get guys to not worry about class after, other things, just try to get better at this aspect or that aspect of the game."
Koenning admits the defense is more advanced than in his first spring with the Illini. But relatively speaking, he feels the same since he believes so much more is possible.
"Last year, we were probably making a lot more mistakes than we're making now. The expectations are to not make any. So we have a greater sense of urgency than what we had last year. There isn't a better comfort level because the expectations are higher and the heat's higher.
"We've got guys still making mistakes. They do it right once and wrong the next time. One step back, two steps forward. We've got to not take any steps backward. We're still not at the point where there's constant progress.
"The guys are thinking, and we can't be thinking. Sometimes, when you're not worried about someone hitting you, you can concentrate on your assignment. I didn't coin this term, but when the bullets start flying and guys are coming to hit you, you start worrying about getting hit instead of what you're supposed to do. We haven't overcome that fear yet."
Maurice Fleming, an athlete from Chicago Curie, visited practice Tuesday. The Illini expect a large number of high school juniors for the Spring Game, as well as around 15 signees who will be enrolling at Illinois in June.