Illini Look To Continue Strong "D" With Banks

Spring practice begins Wednesday for the Fighting Illini football team. While replacements must be found for four departed starters, and depth is always a concern, new Illini defensive coordinator Tim Banks is looking forward to coaching an experienced group that enjoyed much success last fall. This is the first of a two-part interview.

Illinois defensive coordinator and safety coach Tim Banks is happy with his new surroundings after moving from Cincinnati.

"I like it. It seems to be a good community, and people are excited about the Orange and Blue."

Of course, he'll feel better once his family joins him.

"We probably won't get settled until the summer. But I have a great wife who is really handling everything behind the scenes in terms of getting us organized and finding a place to live. She's got the top job, taking care of everything. She's been a rock through the whole process."

Banks is eager to see his defenders performing on the field in spring ball beginning Wednesday. Up to now, his time with them has been limited to winter conditioning and an occasional meeting. But he's impressed with what he's seen so far.

"We have really great kids. All of them are hard workers and are working extremely hard in the classroom. I'm excited. It's a good time right now.

"As far as the football aspect, we are constantly working on things. Obviously, starting spring ball and getting ready for the summer and going into the season."

Banks is unwilling to make assumptions about his defense until he sees it on the field. But he is pleased with the starting point for a group that was nationally ranked in 2011.

"I think it's a group that's looking to take the next step. Right now, the attention has been great, working them in morning workouts. The guys have been working hard. They've done everything we've asked them to do. I don't anticipate that changing.

"Every year is a different year. We talk about the things we want to get accomplished this year. Obviously, we want to do everything in our power to make sure we're winning games. Whatever we need to do, we're looking forward to doing that."

Still, Banks can't help but be pleased with the quality of returning starters for 2012.

"The good news is, we have an experienced group, guys that have played. You start with Mike Buchanan. Buchanan has played a lot of football around here. JB (Jonathan Brown) has played a lot of football around here. (Terry) Hawthorne has played football around here.

"It's always great to have some experience, but they understand there's still a lot of work to be done to really take the next step and help this team win a championship."

Banks coaches safeties but is responsible for everyone on the defense. More than anything else, depth must be developed at all positions.

"I'm responsible for the safeties, in terms of coaching the position. But you can really say the same thing about our entire defense. That's our main goal going into the spring, looking at some of the younger guys and developing some quality backups.

"We're changing a little bit obviously on the other side of the ball. We're going to do some different things over there. I'm sure we'll score a lot of points, so the defense will have to play a lot of snaps. For us to win championships, you've got to be able to have depth on defense. We're really looking forward to building that.

"We've got to bring some of these young guys along, whether it's a backup safety or backup defensive tackle, or finding out who the next defensive end is. We've got to find a way to come out with at least 22 on defense. That's two at every spot. That's probably wishful thinking, but that's our goal."

The Illini return three lettermen safeties. Supo Sanni, Steve Hull and Pat Nixon-Youman all saw considerable playing time, but there are no other backups with experience. Redshirt freshman Nick North is the only other scholarship safety on the spring roster.

For four years now, numerous Illini fans have insisted Sanni move to linebacker due primarily to his size. But like his coaching predecessors at Illinois, Banks sees Sanni differently from the fans.

"He's a safety. That's where he's played, and that's where I envision him being. I've watched some film, and he does some really good things. I think his best football is ahead of him. He seems to be healthy at this point.

"He's a big, strong kid, extremely conscientious, and he wants to be a good football player. It's my job to help him reach his full potential. That's what we plan to do."

Banks talks about his newly signed freshmen safeties and discusses recruiting in part two of this interview.

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