Keith Gilmore came to Illinois three years ago to work for former Illini coach Ron Zook. He is now the only remaining member of that coaching staff, staying on to work for Tim Beckman. He's pleased to be here.
"I feel good. It's an opportunity to continue the work that I've started, and continue to coach the young men that I've helped bring in. I feel pretty excited to have that opportunity."
While his fellow assistants are all scrambling to find local residences and move their families to town, Gilmore has no such burden.
"It's nice that I don't have to move. My kids definitely appreciate it. It's a chance for you to stay and get a new start."
He is having to develop chemistry with his new compatriots, but he believes the transition will go smoothly.
"I didn't know Coach Beckman before. I knew of him, but I didn't know him personally. Some of the guys I knew previously, so that makes it a lot easier on me. I knew Tim Banks, I knew Chris Beatty and I knew of Mike Ward. So there's some continuity there. The guys are good people and good football coaches, so it's not an issue."
Gilmore will still be teaching the same techniques as before.
"I haven't seen a lot of difference. The terminology will be different, but the techniques are the same. That's the main thing. I now have four positions to coach rather than three, back to the way it was."
While Illini fans assume losing star defensive end Whitney Mercilus to the NFL draft will prove detrimental to the Illini defense, Gilmore is upbeat.
"That doesn't concern me. Each year there is a new challenge, and somebody will rise to the occasion. We have some good players coming back. Players that have some experience like Akeem Spence, Glenn Foster, Mike Buchanan, and now Tim Kynard will hopefully be in the mix. I think we've got a pretty good nucleus of frontline guys."
Kynard has experience and could be coming into his own.
"He started off pretty strongly, and then toward the end of the season he kind of leveled off a little bit. But he's had a great off-season, and I think he's going to get where we want him to be."
Kynard's backups at the start of spring ball are novices.
"We're going to start out with a couple of guys, D.J. Woods and Kenny Nelson, who are going to work real hard this spring."
Buchanan is a two year starter on the other side, and he is poised for his best season. He has three good-looking players backing him up, so one or more may be moved to back up Kynard if needed.
"I'm thinking whoever can be the most physical at the point of attack, we can move that guy over to help on the other side if need be. We'll give Kynard, Woods and Nelson the first shot, and then we'll go from there."
Spence should be a fixture at one tackle spot. He was a freshman All-American in 2010 and had another strong season last fall. Glenn Foster started at the three-technique tackle throughout 2011 despite being undersized. Will he stay at tackle rather than move back to his natural end position?
"At this point I do. He's gained 25 pounds and is up to about 290, so I think he'll hold his weight in there, hold his point a little bit better. I think that's where we're going to play him at this point."
Defensive tackle depth is a concern, but Gilmore has options there.
"We'll go with Austin Teitsma and Jake Howe backing up Glenn and Akeem. I feel those guys have been in the program a couple of years, gained some girth and will be able to hold the point. And then we've got some young freshmen coming in. You've got Chris O'Connor, Teko Powell and Vontrell Williams. We hope to get some help from them."
O'Connor redshirted last fall while bulking up to tackle size. Gilmore has high hopes for his two rookies Powell and Williams.
"I think they're fine young players. They're going to have to mature and learn the system and get a little stronger. I think Vontrell might be a little bit ahead of Teko just as far as weight room types of things. But I think they'll both be good players. They'll be here early in the summer and get a chance to work out with us, so we'll see.
"I'm looking at one as a one-technique and one as a three at this point. Vontrell could possibly be a defensive end. We haven't decided at this point."
The defensive line was considered a weakness a year ago, but it became a team strength. If Gilmore can work Kynard or someone else into Mercilus's spot, he could have a formidable front line again this year.
"No question. I feel real fortunate. I feel that Spence, Buchanan and Foster can be some of the best players in the Big Ten at this point. They'll all be seniors, they've played good football. It's time for them to get to the top of their game."
Gilmore has seen his recruiting areas change somewhat since Beckman's arrival.
"I'm recruiting up in the Rockford area right now, so I'm just trying to get a feel for it. I'm also going to be recruiting the state of Michigan, and in Florida I'll be recruiting Broward County.
"That's the county adjacent to Miami. You've got St. Thomas Aquinas and University Prep. They're always two schools that are loaded. Also schools like American Heritage, Cooper City and Belle Glades. There's a few schools with a lot of players. I'm trying to get familiar with those guys right now."
Gilmore has recruited Michigan previously, searching for a few not tied by birth to the two dominate state schools. Since Beckman and a couple of his assistants are also familiar with the state, Gilmore feels his efforts can be enhanced there.
"I think there'll be a better understanding of the coaches and players in Michigan than before. More understanding of what players are there and who we can go after. I think there will be a little bit of an advantage there."