Illini OC Paul Petrino Has A Recurring Dream

The Fighting Illini football team opens its fall practices for the 2011 season Thursday. There is optimism for a strong season thanks to a large number of returning lettermen, a big victory in the Texas Bowl and eight home games. The Illini offense figures to be especially potent. A preview of the offense reveals multiple weapons and exciting potential.

Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino has a dream. A dominant, highly aggressive play-caller, Petrino has a special vision for the 2011 season. Let's tune into thoughts that flit into his consciousness.

The dream begins with the first possession of the Arkansas State game September 3rd. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase takes the first snap from junior center Graham Pocic, turns and hands off to senior running back Jason Ford. Following the power-blocking of sophomore fullback Jay Prosch, Ford barrels through the first line of defense and runs over the safety for a first down.

Petrino loves to exploit weaknesses, so he envisions changing the blocking scheme with the exact same formation and running a similar play. Ford blasts for seven more yards. On second down, Scheelhaase fakes the handoff, rolls out and looks for a receiver breaking open in the flat.

Perhaps it is senior flanker Fred Sykes. Maybe tight end Evan Wilson catches his first pass of the year. Or perhaps senior Zach Becker, finally healthy after nearly two years on the sideline, catches the pass he expected to receive last season. Prosch could also be the man as he is a good receiver and tough to tackle.

The first down allows Troy Pollard to get his first carry of his senior season. Following a kickout block by senior weakside tackle Jeff Allen and perhaps the pulling hit on a linebacker by guard Hugh Thornton or Jeff Cornell, Pollard wiggles and weaves through the Arkansas State defense for another first down.

Petrino's dream continues. Senior receiver A.J. Jenkins gets into the act next, taking Scheelhaase's pass on a short crossing pattern into a big gain down the sideline. Outside receiver Darius Millines's downfield block helps escort Jenkins toward paydirt, finally being tackled at the three.

Petrino envisions numerous options at that point. He has the opponent on its heels, not knowing whether to defend run or pass. This is where the Illini OC is at his best. The only question is whether his play-call will be executed properly. If it is, Ford will power into the end zone.

Or Scheelhaase will option with Pollard, choosing the open man for the score. Or maybe he'll hit the 6'-6" Wilson over the top of the linebackers. He might even give fifth year transfer Brandon Clear a chance to shine, using his 6'-5" frame and leaping ability to catch the short pass. Regardless, the Illini score.

Petrino has a much bigger dream than that. Each possession comes and goes with more scores on the board. If a penalty or mental error forces a fourth down in enemy territory, he knows he has senior placekicker Derek Dimke to put three points through the uprights. Petrino will not be satisfied unless he scores every possession.

Petrino has a dream. As the game proceeds, he gets to experiment with his younger players. Running backs Bud Golden and Ean Days may get some tick. Or perhaps he will give his prize freshmen Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson chances to gain experience.

Young has impressed everyone this summer and is faster and more elusive than many suspect. And Ferguson has the speed and quick change of direction to confound a tired, discouraged defense. Petrino has a dream both running backs will gain tons of yardage in their Illini careers. Maybe his dream will begin to manifest in the first game.

Of course, Petrino also realizes he must develop depth for a long season. So he inserts receivers Ryan Lankford, Spencer Harris, Jake Kumerow and maybe a freshman like Jeremy Whitlow or speedster Jordan Frysinger to gain experience.

Redshirt freshmen tackles Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic have been sharing time, but Petrino also works Tyler Sands into the mix, spelling Pocic and one of the starting guards. It is hoped letterman Corey Lewis will be cleared to participate by the beginning of the Big 10 season.

Eddie Viliunas has been blocking well in two tight end formations, but Petrino also sees value in going to him on an unexpected pass over the middle.

Of course, a big part of Petrino's dream is seeing his two prize freshmen tight ends in action. Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse bring special athleticism to the team; both can catch and run. He gets impatient in his dream, looking for a chance to surprise Arkansas State with one or both of his future stars.

Petrino will likely run much of the time against Arkansas State, as he will try to do against everyone. He believes in wearing teams down with the power game and then blowing by them with a downfield pass. Petrino sees Scheelhaase hitting the speedy Lankford, Millines or Jenkins on long post or sideline patterns whenever the defense begins to cheat expecting run.

Scheelhaase had problems with the play-action pass last year. He should be more capable of performing that task this year. Petrino also sees either sophomore Miles Osei or true freshman Reilly O'Toole as options in his dream. One or the other will probably see action in multiple games to gain experience. O'Toole has the arm strength for play-action if he isn't redshirted.

As all his dreams end, Petrino feels secure knowing the Illini performed well in their first game. Of course, he also feels unrequited, still looking for the perfect game where the Illini totally dominate their opponent. No mercy. But that's a dream for next week.

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