Illinois co-offensive coordinator and receiver coach Billy Gonzales says the offense is making strides learning a new system in spring practices.
"We're getting better each and every practice. Any time you install something brand new that's a little different from the past, there will be a lot of mistakes early. As a staff, you've got to figure out how much we put in and at what point do we stop putting in so that we can get better. I think that's kind of where we're at right now."
The installation process isn't complete.
"We've got a lot more to put in. We haven't put the entire playbook in. We put a base of what they can handle and what they need to operate against our defense. We've just got to get better at it.
"The players have done a great job. Our defense does a lot of different things, movement and blitzes. Our offensive line has done a great job of picking things up. Everything's been fast. We're trying to install base stuff, and we've got to learn how to block all those looks in 15 days.
"You're trying to block multiple looks, or inserting what you can get done. You want to give them mass, then you've got to step back and decide at what point you need to stop and get better. There's a fine balance between that."
Gonzales was asked if he has the talent to accomplish what he wants offensively.
"I think you always adjust to what they can do. You're a bad coach if you try to do something your players can't do. We want to install our base offense. And then we'll mellow out and decide what we can do and can't do.
"What guy has stepped up this spring? We may need to have more of this personnel set than that personnel set based on our depth. Obviously, you start looking ahead toward guys that are coming in next year as well."
Despite the growing pains, Gonzales is convinced the new Illini offense will be highly productive once it's perfected.
"We are going to be able to utilize the football field from sideline to sideline. We want to give the quarterback multiple options in the run and pass games, but we've got to continue to develop. I think when you look at us, we want to be a blue collar, hard-nosed football team.
"We want to spread the field, but we want to be an attacking-style offense foremost. If we continue to mature, get better and get some guys open to make plays, we'll have a chance to be successful."
Quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase, Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei are competing for a starting spot. Some consider Scheelhaase and O'Toole opposites, but Gonzales thinks they have much in common despite some differences.
"I wouldn't say you have two completely opposite quarterbacks. I've been really excited about all three of the quarterbacks, Reilly, Osei and obviously Nate. I think all three of them give you a little bit of the same. They're a little bit different in some ways, but to say that one guy can run it and one guy can't, that's not at all fair to say.
"What we realize is that, son of a gun, we've got three guys we think that run the offense extremely well. You'd better be a great leader to play that position, no matter what offense you're running. All three of those guys have stepped up and done a fantastic job to this point."
If Osei isn't needed at quarterback, where might he be moved to add depth?
"Wherever he can help the team. He's expressed that he would move if it would help the team. But he's made great strides in what he's doing right now at the quarterback position.
"Obviously, you would take a look at where we're thin depth-wise. Is it receiver, is it running back, is it slot? That would be something we would take a look at in the next couple weeks."
"We don't have enough depth there at all. We are going to have to develop that over time and get better. The guys are working hard, that's the only thing you can ask for.
"They're continually getting better, but we don't have the depth where we need it to be right now. It's a matter of letting our guys understand the offense so hopefully we can get some guys out in the open and make some big plays."
Is there someone among the receivers who can replace adequately graduated superstar A.J. Jenkins?
"We're moving guys around at different positions. I wouldn't say, 'This is the guy,' for the simple reason we are only halfway through spring practice. We've got some guys that have the athletic ability, but at the same time, we're trying to figure out the positions we can put these guys in to help us out immediately.
"And we need some guys to step up on the perimeter. We're here to develop our players and get them better. We've got work to do."
Former Illini center Luke Butkus is now offensive line coach. Did he ever expect to coach with a Butkus?
"I did not. He's a fantastic coach. He's not only a great motivator, he's a great mind and he's a great person. So I'm excited to have an opportunity to work with him."
Has he stolen some ideas from the NFL?
"Definitely. He's young, and he's exciting and vibrant. At the same time, he's been up in the NFL a couple years. Anytime you're up there and have an opportunity to work with coaches he's worked under and have a chance to watch and work side-by-side with, he's going to pick up some of that knowledge. He's done a great job with it."
Gonzales was encouraged by Monday's practice. The players had a week off for spring break, and he expected the worst.
"You wouldn't have thought that coming back from spring break after being gone a week would be a crisp practice. But I thought Monday's practice for us offensively was pretty crisp. We added a couple plays, but we were very base and let our players play fast. Monday was probably the most productive day for us."
The Illini offense is undergoing growing pains right now, and that might continue into the 2012 season. But once the players have everything perfected, Gonzales anticipates a high-scoring squad.