Butkus Wants To Create New O-Line Culture

Offensive line coaches use a variety of different approaches in their work. Regardless of the style, the end result must be the same. New Fighting Illini offensive line coach Luke Butkus plans to combine the approaches he's experienced in the past into his own unique style. Whatever it takes to produce required results. This is the last of a three-part interview.

New offensive line coach Luke Butkus learned the trade while playing center under Harry Heistand at Illinois. He also worked under Heistand with the Bears. Heistand is a passionate coach who pushes his players extremely hard. Will that experience encourage Butkus to repeat Heistand's coaching style?

"I've been very fortunate to work with great coaches, Harry Heistand being one of them. Ron Turner, Tom Cable, Alex Gibbs, Pete Carroll. I don't claim to be any one of those guys, but they've all kind of made me who I am. I stole a little bit from each one of them.

"There might be some Harry out there. I don't know if I'll run around like he did in my playing days here. He did it for a reason, and I love him for it. He made us who we are today."

Butkus's title with the Bears and Seahawks was Quality Control Coach for offensive linemen. He explains the title had more to do with salary scale than work load in practice and games.

"Yeah, I did all the work. No, I'm just kidding. I drew the runs. At the same time, you still coach. Coach Cable and Coach Carroll were great. Also in Chicago with coach (Ron) Turner and Coach Heistand. It was just a title. I plan to do all that here and then some."

Some offensive line coaches are sticklers for technique. Others emphasize bullying the opposition. Butkus feels both are important.

"We're definitely gonna emphasize technique, without a doubt. I believe you have to have technique to play this game. At the same time, every time we are out on that field, we have to get some effort. It will not be accomplished without great effort."

Traditionalists prefer to see offensive linemen in a three-point stance, but that isn't always the best approach with a spread offense like the UI expects to use. Again, Butkus expects a mixture of approaches.

"They'll be in a stance, whether it be a three-point stance with their hand on the ground or a two-point stance further up. That will be determined by the offense and what we are doing by series and by play. That's nothing new for these guys. The three inside guys will always have their hand down."

How much different is Tim Beckman's spread offense from what most pro teams use?

"We used pro-style in Chicago, and we used more pro-style zone in Seattle. We run them all here, we run everything. Just because we're not always in the 'I' formation, or we're always in shotgun, the ball game is still the same. Especially up front, it's about coming off the ball in the running game and protecting the quarterback in the passing game."

The offensive line struggled last year despite having four experienced players. Butkus looks only toward the future.

"The past is the past. I'm here, and what we're going to do is change the culture in that room. We're gonna work. I'm not going to sit here and tell you what we're going to do; you'll see by our actions, not our words."

There are certain measurables upon which most evaluate line talent. While Butkus will strive to find the most athletic guys he can during recruiting, he cares more about production than physical characteristics with his linemen.

"There is criteria that we look for. But overall, it first comes down to effort and toughness. If you give great effort on every single play, then you have a chance with me. Whether you're black or white, 6'-0" or 6'-5," you have a chance. You have to be tough. You're grinding every play, every single play, so you have to be tough.

"As far as the measurables, we all like tackles who are 6'-5" and above. We all like guards and inside guys who are earthmovers, guys that can create movement. But it's not always gonna work out that way.

"Look at our Big Ten championship team in 2001. We had some big-time tackles, big players. We had some tough, inside guys. But they didn't fit a mold. Jay Kulaga, he could move people off the ball of course, but if you looked at him, you wouldn't say, 'That's a guard.' Same with tackles...Tony Pashos was big, fat, slow.

"The last five years I've been in the NFL, there are a lot of players who play on Sundays for a long amount of time who were always told they were too short, not big enough, or too slow.

"You can't see a guy that's 6'-6" and say that guy is a player. You can't limit yourself to that. Does he have a chance to be a better player? Maybe. But at the same time, a 6'-3" guy may work his butt off because he's only 6'-3". Each guy is an individual."

Jeff Allen and Jack Cornell have graduated. Butkus is looking forward to determining a new group upon which the offense can rely.

"I've had a chance to watch our guys work out. And I've watched our guys a little bit on film. I'm excited about what we have coming back. It's unfortunate that we have to lose Jeff and Jack, but at the same time we are going to band together as a group and do it all together. We're going to find the best five to line up on Saturday."

Butkus won't name names at this time, but he shares his thoughts on their progress as a group in winter conditioning.

"They're willing to work. They're going to do the things that we ask. As of right now, we are asking them to give effort on every single play, every single rep. On every drill in winter conditioning, they're going to give great effort.

"As for their speed and talent level, that will be determined in spring ball. But they're doing everything that we ask right now. They're competing, and that's all we can ask for right now, compete for a chance to play.

"Without a doubt, we do have some talent. We have some guys that may not look the part that may be playing on Saturdays."

Butkus still has much to learn, especially about recruiting and specifics of his offensive line group. But no one will be outworked. No one will care more about producing success at Illinois.

"I think everybody knows how I feel about this place. Someone made a comment the other day, it's like a moth returning to the flame. He finds his way back. I have too much invested in this place and care about this place too much to not give back because this University has done so much for me.

"I'm excited, not only for me and my family, but also for the University of Illinois and state of Illinois for us to come in and have a chance to compete for Big Ten championships."

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