Depth An Issue As UI FB Practices Continue

The Fighting Illini football team resumed spring practices Monday in Memorial Stadium. It was closed as usual, but head coach Tim Beckman updated the team's progress to date. Depth at tackle is a major concern; there are no easy answers if injuries take their toll. But Beckman remains upbeat as he puts his squad through its paces.

Illinois football coach Tim Beckman addressed the media before Monday's practice. He was asked about depth at tackle, and he expressed concerns. Starters are Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic, both redshirt sophomores with one year of experience.

"We're very young, very inexperienced. I think Michael has done a great job. Simon has shown flashes. But that is a position of major concern when you only have four players on scholarship at those positions."

It was hoped former starter Corey Lewis would be healthy this year, but that is not the case. If Heitz or Cvijanovic are injured, their only backups are true freshmen Scott McDowell and Patrick Flavin, both of whom lack size, strength and experience. Beckman would have to do some juggling of personnel if more tackle depth is required.

"Right now, (Hugh) Thornton will stay at guard. But he can play some tackle also. He's going to learn both positions. Next would probably have to be Graham (Pocic)."

Pocic is a three year starter at center. If he moves to tackle, who will play center?

"(Tony) Durkin has been running at center a little bit, and (Jake) Feldmeyer has been at that position. If we have to put our best players out on the football field, we have to one, make sure we can snap the football, but also step in there and make ourselves better at that position."

In other words, Illini fans must hope everyone stays healthy. The same is true at running back. Donovonn Young played the most among returnees last year, but he's nursed a stress fracture in his foot all spring. Beckman had good news on that front.

"Donovonn is going out today. He's going to get a little bit of reps, but we are not going to put him into a situation that won't make him successful. We are not going to stress any of our football players if they're not capable of doing it. We'll have to make those decisions day by day."

He also shared encouraging news on the progress of Josh Ferguson at running back.

"He's done a great job. He's got exceptional quicks, and he's learning the game pretty good. He doesn't look like a true freshman."

Miles Osei has played running back this spring also. Beckman has been testing several players at the position.

"We've moved a couple guys around. (Zach) Becker has done a great job for us back there. Jonathan Davis ran there the other day for us. We're trying to see what the kids can do, working with each one to try to put them into great situations."

Beckman was glowing in his praise of Becker.

"I love him. The young man plays hard, he's consistent. Being around this profession for 47 years, you hope your son someday plays like Zach Becker. He does everything right. He's usually the first one in the meeting room, the first one in the classroom, the first one on the football field. He's a pleasure to coach.

"There's no question he'll see the field this year. He just needs to keep on performing and doing what he does. He has that one term all coaches look for, and that's reliable."

Punter Justin DuVernois has been seen booming some of his punts. Has he become more consistent?

"That's the question, consistency. One day I was screaming at him, and then Friday he comes out and does well. We just need him to punt at a more consistent level. I see him doing that, but he needs to be even more at that position, no question. He's done a good job at times, but we want to make sure we're doing it consistently."

Beckman is pleased with the progress of his quarterbacks.

"At the quarterback position right now, Nathan Scheelhaase is #1 on the depth chart. But Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei have shown that they can do things in practice. We can be successful with them doing that at quarterback. Depth at the quarterback position is probably not as much a concern for us because those three young men show capabilities of doing it."

Beckman said Friday's practice player awards went to Ashante Williams on defense, Graham Pocic on offense, Jack Ramsey on special teams, and DuVernois was named the unsung player.

The Illinois coach continues to praise his team's attitude and work ethic.

"I'm proud of the way they play, and the tempo that they play at. They're still learning the way that we want to practice and the things that we want to get accomplished each and every day. The attitude has been exceptional, to try to get better, to try to understand what we're trying to do. They're really excited about what this program can do."

Two upcoming junior football prospects attended practice today. Wide receiver Dominique Booth from Indianapolis Pike and Brandon Hines from Homestead High School in Mequon, Wisconsin, both were having a good time. Ohio upcoming senior running back Godwin Igwebuike is expected at Wednesday's practice.

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