UI Holds Special Team Scrimmage Monday

There's one week to go before the Fighting Illini showcase their new football team for fans in the annual Spring Game in Memorial Stadium. Before Monday's practice, head coach Tim Beckman updated the progress of his team and talked about the draft that will be used to divide the players into Orange and White teams.

Illinois football coach Tim Beckman said Monday his Friday scrimmage concluded with Hugh Thornton winning the IPOP award for offense, Justin Staples for defense and Matt LaCosse for special teams. The unsung hero was Ryan Lankford. The scrimmage was productive.

"It went good. We got in about 120-130 plays. We had the ones against the rest of the team. They did a pretty good job. We didn't have any injury problems that were of any consequence."

There are practices Monday and Wednesday of this week, followed Saturday by the annual Spring Game. Beckman is excited to see a large contingent of former Illini both Friday and Saturday and then watching his team perform for the fans and assembled recruiting prospects.

"I'm fired up. I won't be doing much, I'll be standing back in the back letting me coordinators coach and call the plays. Of course I'll wear a headphone and be listening to it.

"What a great opportunity to get former players back playing a game of golf on Friday. I get to see over 80, that's 20 different foursomes, that will be part of our first-ever golf outing. We're getting these players back here on campus and showcasing our alumni. I'm not really a golfer, but I'll be cruising around though."

The draft for the Spring Game will be done privately Tuesday. The seniors will do the drafting, and it will entail more than just picking teammates.

"First of all, they will pick what they want, orange or white for home and away. Then they get to draft what coaching staff they want. And then they'll get into the actual draft after that."

Draft rules appear somewhat confusing because exceptions are made in certain circumstances. Beckman doesn't want either team to be without a player at any position, and he may mix up the reserves to allow them maximum playing opportunities.

"Really, there's seven guys that I have placed already, along with the seniors. The rest will be drafted. It depends on the depth of the position. If you've only got two at one position, and one is a senior, the other one is going to be on the other team.

"Graham Pocic is our starting center, and we have two guys behind him. Jake Feldmeyer is #2, so he will automatically be on the other team. And then we'll have the third (Tony Durkin) be behind Graham.

"We know what Graham can do because he's done such a great job in his career here, and he's done a good job this spring. We know that the other two need more reps. So the third center will be on Graham's team."

Monday's practice was highlighted by extensive special team work.

"We're still competing. We've got a kicking dual we always do on the 13th practice. We focus more on special teams; we'll spend about 45 minutes to an hour on special team situations."

Five walkon placekickers are competing to replace the graduated Derek Dimke. Two appeared to be ahead of the others, but Beckman says one may have made a move.

"It's been fairly close. In the scrimmage this last week, one separated himself a little bit better than the other one, who had an off day. They had been almost identical percentage-wise.

"Right now, we are making 76% of our field goals. We've had 60-some field goals throughout all the practices. We need to be higher than that, in the 80's of course."

Justin DuVernois is clearly ahead of walkons Garrett Stroup and Brad Janitz as the punter, and Beckman is pleased with the Floridian's improvement.

"I think the punting game has gotten a little bit better. Justin has done a lot better, there's no question about it. I think we've corrected the way he was catching the football from the snap. It was not the proper way to catch the snap. He still has to work on it, but he has corrected something that we felt he wasn't doing correctly."

Beckman continues to praise the defensive line.

"I think Michael Buchanan has done a great job. What has really impressed me about Mike is his leadership. The kid works hard in everything that he does, if it's special teams, if it's defense. Akeem Spence has had a good spring.

"Justin Staples was the IPOP from the scrimmage this past week. Glenn Foster has put a lot of weight on his body. So I've been very impressed with the way they're playing."

Friday was the first time Beckman got to see running back Donovonn Young in action since he sat out previously while healing a stress fracture in his foot.

"I hadn't seen Donovonn run before. I was impressed; he looked healthy. He had what we call 'fresh legs' because it was practice number 12. He was very impressive."

Many Illini fans assume Beckman will play both Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole at quarterback in games this fall. While they and Miles Osei have all impressed at times, Beckman cannot confirm it will be quarterback by committee.

"I can't answer that right now. It's all going to be dependent on what happens throughout the summer and fall."

Many fans are eager to find out how Terry Hawthorne is doing at receiver. The star senior cornerback was a great high school receiver, so they assume he will step in and play both ways. That assessment may be a little premature at this point.

"We only gave him about five reps. He'll probably get a few (Monday). He's capable of doing it, so why not use him? We might use Justin Green in a couple situations also."

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