Graham Pocic Anchors Illini Offensive Line

Who said a center can't be tall? Sure, some have trouble getting their pads low enough to neutralize short, hard-charging nose tackles. But technique is more important than height. Just ask Fighting Illini center Graham Pocic. Now in his second year as a starter, he's compensated quite nicely despite being one of the tallest centers in captivity.

Graham Pocic was recruited to Illinois to play tackle and was later moved to guard. He didn't get much playing time until he found his true calling as a center. The 6'-7" Pocic is now in his second year as a starter.

He also has a year in offensive coordinator Paul Petrino's complex system. He feels everything is coming together for him.

"Overall, I'm getting more comfortable with snapping, and my blocking's getting better. Now I know what to expect and how to prepare for the season. I know what teams are gonna try to do. I'm a lot more comfortable with the system, and I'm more comfortable with the teams we're playing."

Petrino is a tough task-master who demands a lot of his players. But he demands even more of himself. He makes it easy for Illini players to follow his lead.

"Petrino is never satisfied. He's always trying to get better, he's always working. He probably watches more film than all of us. He's always getting better, and he's always making us get better too."

Pocic's backup Jake Feldmeyer has finally grown into the position and learned all the basics, including being consistent on shotgun snaps. That frees Tyler Sands, last year's backup both for Pocic and the guards, to specialize in guard play.

"Tyler Sands is really stepping up, trying to be the sixth man off the bench. He can give Jack (Cornell) or Hugh (Thornton) a break, and he can play center if he needs to."

Michael Heitz appears to have won his battle for the starting right tackle spot, but Simon Cvijanovic is still pushing him. As redshirt freshmen, they will both get burned at times until they gain experience. Pocic has advice for them.

"Just play hard every play. They know what they're doing, and they can press each other."

The 305 pounder is impressed with all the freshmen linemen. He knows the starting spots will be in good hands down the road.

"All our young linemen are real impressive. Ted Karras has great potential. Tony (Durkin, backup center), I am very impressed with him. He's had a lot of football success in his family, and he knows what he's doing."

Offensive linemen toil in obscurity. Their thrill is seeing the offense hum thanks to their timely blocks. The Illini offense has the weapons to make Pocic smile upon reflection.

"Having Nate (Scheelhaase) back there, Jason (Ford), A.J. (Jenkins) and all those guys, it's exciting to block for them. Players like that make you more excited."

Pocic is already considered a possible future NFL player. He has two more years to prove his worthiness, and the Illini look forward to his contributions.

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