Harris Happy At Illinois Despite Changes

Besides being the former Illini offensive coordinator, Paul Petrino was considered a receiver guru. He brought in receiver Spencer Harris from Arkansas and was especially close to him. Some thought Harris would transfer back to his home state school when Petrino returned there. But he's still in Champaign and enjoying himself fully.

Spencer Harris needed to make a major adjustment due to the Illinois football coaching change last winter. Gone was the man who recruited and coached him, replaced by strangers with a somewhat different offensive philosophy. Billy Gonzales is now offensive coordinator for the passing game and his receiver coach, but Harris has taken the change in stride.

"It was kind of tough since because Petrino brought me here. But changes happen. I'm happy with the staff we have here right now.

"I love Coach González and his personality. He's got a funny little personality too; he likes to joke around with us sometimes. And the coaching staff here is awesome, they're all good guys. It is a big change going from a guy that brought me here to a guy like this.

"He makes you feel like he knows something about you. He's already taken us under his wing and is treating us like he brought us here. I really can't complain."

Harris was the starter last season at slot receiver because the offense at that time required a bigger player who could block linebackers. Now he is an outside receiver, requiring further adjustments on his part.

"Right now, I play a little bit of 'X' and a little bit of 'Z.' It's a good fit for me. I don't know if they wanted a bigger receiver on the outside, a guy that can go up and get the balls. Maybe that's what they're thinking, but I'm not sure. But I'm going to play wherever they put me and enjoy it.

"With our schemes, we're doing a lot of bubble screens and stuff like that. The outside receiver has to be able to block well. So maybe that's part of it as well."

The 6'-3" junior has different responsibilities in the new spread offense than the pro-style used previously. But he isn't picky, as long as he gets to play.

"I like the offense that throws the ball to me. I guess I came in with kind of a pro-style spread style, for the most part. I enjoyed that a lot. And I like this offense too. I got a lot of balls thrown my way this spring.

"And it's a lot of fun to play this offense, it's high tempo. It's kind of the same offense I ran in high school, the same type of stuff. Real fast tempo, try to wear the opponent out. It's a real explosive offense.

"So I can say I don't favor one offense more than the others. I like them all. Obviously, I'd rather be in an offense that passes more than it runs, and it looks like we're doing that. Right now, we're passing plenty."

Harris hasn't found differences in pass routes and the overall passing game from his first two years on the team to be a problem for him. He sees the bigger picture.

"It is a little bit different. There is some of the same concepts. It's kind of related to what we ran last year. There's different stuff now for me on the outside. I didn't run the outside routes last year; I was an inside receiver. But football is all kind of connected, one big concept altogether.

"On the outside routes, we do a lot of comebacks. I've honestly never run one of those before, but I already like them a lot. I guess it's a little bit different, but at the same time, I'm enjoying it."

Illini coaches are concerned about depth at the three receiver positions, but Harris is optimistic younger players will be able to help starters Darius Millines, Ryan Lankford and himself this fall.

"They're actually doing pretty well. Other guys are starting to step up. For me, Ryan and Darius, it's just as hard for us to learn offense as it is for them. Basically, we're all freshman again. Even though we do have a little more playing experience on the field, it's a battle for everybody right now.

"Jeremy (Whitlow) is doing very well, I've seen (Jordan) Frysinger do well, (Peter) Bonahoom. All of them made some plays this spring. I'm proud of them. Coach González says it's fair for whoever wants to go out and take it. If you want to keep it, you keep it."

When Petrino took over at offensive coordinator in 2010 and changed the offense, the Illini didn't really click offensively until the last half of the season. That may happen in 2012 for the same reason, but Harris feels spring ball went a long way to helping the players get up to speed.

"The offense is finally starting to click in. We're starting to get the hang of things a little bit."


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