Justin Green Adds Technique To Talent

The Fighting Illini secondary was woefully thin last year. Injuries depleted the ranks, requiring position changes to fill the gaps. Justin Green moved from running back to fill the void at cornerback, and he played admirably. But he needed this past year to become acclimated to his new position and begin to use his athleticism.

Justin Green moved to cornerback shortly before the Missouri game last fall. He is a tremendous athlete, but he had no real understanding of the playbook or background with the techniques needed for the role.

"Last year, I was just trying to take everything in stride. We were trying to game-plan for teams, and I didn't really get to work on my game. This year, the coaches have slowed everything down for me. I can definitely see it paying off for me."

Illinois added Mike Gillhamer as secondary coach during the winter, which helped Green tremendously.

"I'm feeling a whole lot more comfortable. Coach Gillhamer's helped me out a whole lot with my technique and reading offenses. It's definitely been a positive experience.

"I think he's a great coach. He's taught me so much. I learned more this spring than I did all last year. It's been a positive experience."

Green can react quicker now that he has received training and experience at cornerback. And he can use his athleticism better now that he is playing the field side rather than the boundary.

"Yeah, I'm in the open now, so I can run down the ball, try to make plays."

The Louisville speedster is considered a starter, along with Tavon Wilson and Terry Hawthorne, at the two corner positions. And there is some help behind them. Now, they can rotate so they won't tire by the fourth quarter.

"We definitely have a lot of talent here now in the db room. We can work with each other, and I think we'll do well this year.

"When someone needs a blow, or someone gets banged up, one of us can come in for each other. I think it's definitely gonna help in the long run because it's a long season, and we're gonna need everybody."

Green is excited about the potential of the defense as a whole.

"With Coach Vic (Koenning) now in his second year, and we have Coach Gillhamer now, he came from the Panthers, I think the defense can really be good this year. We lost some of our leaders from last year, but I think we can still have a good year on defense.

"Coach Vic doesn't let us slack off at all. Our goal every day is to come out and get better. I think we'll be ready for our first game."

The Texas Bowl was a good experience for Green and the team. Having time off to heal injuries, refresh tired legs and receive more practice instruction helped tremendously.

"It was fun. That was another learning experience. With those bowl practices, I got a whole lot better. Terry came back from an injury, and I think that's one of the reasons why we played so well in that game. We had everybody back and on the same page."

Of course, there is still plenty to learn.

"I still need to work on my technique. You can never get too good at your technique. Just learning football period, learning the offenses and the different tendencies."

The Illini were missing three of their top receivers most or all of this spring in A.J. Jenkins, Darius Millines and Fred Sykes, but Green feels other receivers gave him good tests.

"With A.J., Fred and Darius out, Lank (Ryan Lankford) definitely keeps me on my toes, and Anthony (Williams) definitely keeps me on my toes, even (Jake) Kumerow. He had a real good spring."

The Recreation, Sports and Tourism major admits the pressure to return to Louisville was strong, especially when things didn't work out for him at running back. But he is resigned to making the best of his situation.

"I'm up here right now, and I'm trying to make the best of it."

A bowl win, 8 home games and renewed optimism after a solid spring at cornerback have helped Green to see brightness in his immediate future.

"The home games is definitely an advantage for us. We still have to come out and play. As long as we play and handle our business, I think we can do well."

Illini Inquirer Top Stories