Beckman Updates Illini Spring Progress

The Fighting Illini football team resumed spring drills Monday after a week off. Coach Tim Beckman chose to keep Monday and Wednesday practices closed to media, so he updated the progress of his team Tuesday. He is pleased with the way the team is performing but concerned about lack of depth.

Illinois football coach Tim Beckman explained why he closed Monday's practice to media.

"I told these players there have been a lot of people around including parents. We wanted one practice where it was just us to go play. I knew that Friday we were opening it up. We were going to put the ball down and get after it a little bit, and we wanted our guys to play."

Beckman's biggest concern going into the last half of spring practices is finding enough bodies to make positive contributions at every position come fall.

"The biggest question on this football team is the depth issue. We challenged some of the younger players, but that's the concern on this coaching staff. I've always been involved in programs that played 30 guys on offense and 30 guys on defense so that we can keep them fresh as the season goes on. It makes your special teams better.

"Right now, that's not the case. That's recruiting, it's developing the younger players to step up and take credit for this program."

Some positions are thinner than others.

"Running back of course. The backups at the running back position. The depth at the wide receiver position, and the depth on the offensive line. Quarterback-wise, we've been good.

"The d-line has stepped up. I think the backups on our defensive front, I've been impressed with the way they've played. At linebacker, we need to progress. We might have one or two, but we're just not quite there yet.

"Safety is a major concern for depth. Even with Supo Sanni dinged, we are still concerned about quality depth at the safety positions."

Sanni, an expected safety starter, is presently at less than 100%.

"Supo had some problems with his other Achilles, so we've kind of shelved him a little bit. But that makes other guys perform, that makes the young guys step up and do what they need to do to make the team better."

Could someone like cornerback Terry Hawthorne switch to safety?

"We've got him at corner because he does such an exceptional job. We haven't moved (Justin) Green or (Jack) Ramsey; they'd be the other ones that could possibly move back to safety. We're pretty thin at corner also. Eaton Spence has had a good spring. I've been proud the way he's played corner. But safety and the Star position are something else."

Recruiting may have helped somewhat since two safeties join the competition this fall. But it will take another year to add depth at offensive tackle.

"If you look at the players we signed, and the players we're involved with in this program, you can see there's a lot of skill there because we had to get some skilled guys in here. The concern is the offensive line. We've got to recruit some tackle bodies."

There are only two scholarship running backs practicing this spring since projected starter Donovonn Young has been slowed by a foot stress fracture.

"Donovonn Young has not been on the field yet. He's got a foot injury that is getting better each and every day. We hopefully expect to have him back for the last two weeks. We won't get him out there until we feel he's 100% ready. That was a little bit of a ding that came to us during winter workouts."

Still, Beckman knows some of what Young can do based on his play as a true freshman last fall.

"I've seen him do it on film, but I'd like for him to be involved in it a little bit more. We'll put them out there when we feel he's ready to go.

"He's gotten big in the weight room. You can see his body has matured and grown basically the 3 to 4 months I've been here. You can see arms develop and the chest develop. You can see on film he can do the things we ask our tailbacks to do in this offense, no question."

Oft-injured senior fullback/tight end Zach Becker has impressed Beckman. He has even done some good things as a backup running back.

"He's been great. Even when there's a situation when we are not in pads, we tally runners gaining 12 yards or more and passes that go 12 yards or more. Zach has had a few of those as a running back.

"So it's been great to see him perform as a running back and do some outstanding things on special teams. He's been lined up a little bit at the 'Y' position as well as the one-back."

Offensive players may be going through more changes from the previous coaching regime than the defense. The reason is Beckman's attempt to fit the offense to his personnel.

"As a football coach, and this is what this staff believes in, we are not in the NFL where you can hit the waiver wires and pick somebody up. This is who we have, so we are going to have to be able to do what our players are capable of doing and be successful doing. Those are the things that we are trying to utilize on offense.

"Maybe it's not always going to be a spread if we can't be in spread and spread everybody out. If we've got to get more tight ends into the football game, then that's what we have to do. We're going to play our 11 best and most consistent.

"As a football coach, I believe it's about putting your players in successful situations. I think probably offensively, it's a little bit different because the defense has shown it has been successful from some of the things we've seen on film last year."

Beckman is impressed with the eagerness and enthusiasm of his squad.

"They want to win. They've won seven football games, and they've been to back-to-back bowl games. They want to take it a step further, and I'm proud of the way these players are working, really at every position from special teams to defense to offense.

"And they're still learning what we expect. We might expect a little bit more, I don't know. They're learning how we're coaching, and you can see progress every day out on the field. That's why it's so fun; every day is different because they're learning from us too."

Practice continues with a closed practice Wednesday.

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