Illinois has a plethora of tight ends. There is more quality depth at the position than anywhere else on the team. Senior Zach Becker is joined by juniors Evan Wilson, Eddie Viliunas and Justin Lattimore plus sophomores Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse. Early enrollee Daniel Rhodes joins the mix this spring.
New tight end coach Alex Golesh feels blessed to have all that talent with which to work.
"We've got a good group of kids. I feel really good walking into a situation like that. We're deep, we're young, a lot of guys that have played a lot of football. Between the tight ends and the fullbacks, we feel like we've got a really solid group."
When the Illini used a spread offense during the Ron Zook era, they didn't use a tight end much. That changed the past two years since a pro-style offense was installed. Will there be room for all these tight ends in head coach Tim Beckman's spread offense?
"That's what's great about the spread offense. You play with the best 11 on the field. So if that happens to be two tight ends, that's what we'll play with. If it happens to be three tight ends, that's what we'll play with."
Figuring out who has what talents will occupy Golesh this spring. The Illini will adapt their offense to fit their players after that.
"The one thing we know going into spring ball, is that we're going to play fast. What we're going to run, and how we're going to run it right now is irrelevant. We'll figure that out, hopefully by April 14th."
How will Rhodes fit into the situation?
"Daniel is a kid that was recruited by the old staff. He's a bigger kid. We'll find a place for him, whether that's at tight end or even D-line. We're excited to have him."
Golesh also oversees the specialists on the team. The Illini had punting problems last year, placekicker Derek Dimke graduated, and long snapper Zak Pedersen has one more year of eligibility. Golesh has to figure out solutions this spring and fall.
"I'm in charge of the specialists, the kicking aspect of the special teams. I've got the punters, kickers, long snappers. Their daily practice regimens, implementing the game plan and making sure we make the kicks and punts within the scheme of what we're trying to do."
The Illini recruited Ryan Frain out of Indianapolis as a kicking specialist. He has a powerful leg and figures to be the likely successor to Dimke. If not, he will battle punters Justin DuVernois and Ryan Lankford.
"Ryan Frain has to come in and show us he can play right away. Whether that's as a kicker or a punter. We obviously lost one of the best kickers in the history of the school. He's expected to come in and compete for that job right away."
Golesh thinks highly of Frain.
"He's a big, long kid that's flexible for how big he is. He's got a strong leg. I truly believe that kicking and punting, if you work at it you can get better. He's a kid that's genuinely gotten better with what he's done. I think he's gonna keep growing and growing. The expectation is that he's going to get better.
"He's excited, and he's working his tail off trying to get ready. He's a great kid from a great family. He has a great work ethic; he's a winner. We're counting on him to be ready."