Beckman Talks Illini On Fan Appreciation Day

Sunday was another busy day for the Fighting Illini football team. Besides a morning practice, they dressed up for team and individual photos and made themselves available for Fan Appreciation Day, where they signed hundreds of autographs. In the meantime, head coach Tim Beckman met the press to provide an update on the team's progress to date.

On the occasion of Picture Day, Illinois coach Tim Beckman said he hopes the team photo will be that of the Big 10 champ come December.

"This morning after breakfast, we talked about the image we wish to portray to the country. On team Picture Day, we want to make sure this picture means something. Especially with the 19 seniors that we have.

"We asked those 19 seniors to come up with a motto. The motto this year is 'Invest.' We talked for the last month to two months what the word invest means to them. Hopefully in December, this team picture means that this team invested into the future of Illini football. We need to create a program that has invested in one another. That's what today signifies to me."

The Illini are one week into fall camp, and Beckman discussed the team's progress to date.

"We've had a week in Camp Rantoul, and I thought that went exceptionally well. We worked on the fundamentals of football plus worked on becoming a closer-knit group, a family, all those important things that are necessary for teams to be successful. I think it was very beneficial for this football team.

"Especially as a new coaching staff coming in, and being involved with this football team for only 15 practices, I thought this week in Rantoul opened the coaching staff's eyes. It was an exceptional camp, not just football-wise, but building families.

"We continue to get better. There's things that we're constantly striving to get better at. I think the fundamentals have gotten better, and that's a credit to this football team. They must have worked extremely hard during the summer to perfect their fundamentals. I am proud of that.

"We've still got a little ways to go, there's no question about it. We're continually looking for the competitive edge so we can build depth on this football team.

"It's gonna take a little while for the depth to build up. The freshman have come in, and the players that were twos and threes have continued to try to improve to make this football team better. That's the challenge. We want to put pressure on our starters and to create the depth."

The Illini defense is expected to be the strength of the team this year. Beckman was asked if it is ready to go.

"I challenged them to be number one. They did an outstanding job last year, but that's in the past. We're only going to be as good as we are in the future. It's a challenge to them.

"Terry Hawthorne, Michael Buchanan, Akeem Spence, Jonathan Brown, Glenn Foster, Supo Sanni, Steve Hull, they've all played a lot of Big 10 football. So of course they'll be ahead of some of those guys like Teddy Karras, who hasn't taken a snap. So of course they're ahead of the game.

"There's never a comfort level in the game of football. If you ever have that comfort level, that's when problems arise. We are always trying to make ourselves better. The goal for our defense is to be the best. They weren't the best team in the Big Ten last year."

Beckman calls himself an "organized freak." He has a detailed plan for everything he does. While he is willing to be flexible, he believes in what he's doing.

"We have a plan, and that plan is the same plan that we used at Toledo. That plan is something that we believe in. A lot of guys on our coaching staff have been involved in that plan.

"Those are the types of things that we're going to continue to believe in and continue to try to instill in this football program. It does work. The things that we're doing are for reasons."

Beckman will not be a figurehead coach. He involves himself in every aspect of the team. His expertise is defense, but he expects to work with every aspect of the team on the field.

"This is Timmy Banks's defense. This is Chris Beatty's and Billy Gonzales's offense, and this is Tim Salem's special teams. I try to coach everything. If I'm in the defensive staff room and see something offensively that can help them, (I tell them).

"I coach a position on every special team. I'm responsible for a certain position, just as any other assistant coach is. I love coaching the Star position on defense. Sometimes I have to leave it because I've got to go get something else ready, to make sure it's organized.

"Because one coach is coaching three positions, that's why I've helped at the Star position. Of course with the new rule, we're able to have four grad assistants. So you have a grad assistant assigned to that position, and another one assigned to the Leo position. We're able to split it up a little bit easier."

He also admits he interjects ideas on play calls during games.

"I've got the on-off switch. I'm on the headset quite a bit, probably too much."

The Illini have devoted extensive practice time to special teams. They have names for each team as well.

"Our punt team is called the Seals. Our punt return team is called Recon, our kickoff team is called Delta Force, and our kickoff return team is called Bravo Company. We don't give names to the field goal and field goal block teams because that's an offensive play that's graded and a defensive play that's graded."

Beckman says a number of freshmen are becoming involved with special teams. Several may play there this year, in addition to the possibility of getting playing time at their positions.

"We had a big special teams practice the other day. (Dami) Ayoola, (Devin) Church, (Mason) Monheim, (Mike) Svetina, (T.J.) Neal and other guys have jumped out and shown us they can help us, not only on offense and defense with depth but also on special teams. They've done a great job."

There is still concern about punter and placement kicker. Aspirants for those positions all have strong legs, but someone must take charge by becoming consistent.

"No one is in the lead. No one has jumped out and taken it over. That's the challenge. Yesterday, there was a 75 yard punt, and then the next one was 20.

"We're talking 21 practice opportunities left, and somebody has to take it over. We're challenging them to get better at those positions. We need to keep pursuing more consistency."

The coaching staff awards players on offense, defense and special teams who have performed best after each practice. Beckman shared the Sunday winners.

"Terry Hawthorne won the Player Of Practice today for the defense. He made a great pick in the red zone. Kenny Knight won it for the offense, and Zak Pedersen won it for special teams."

Beckman admits there are more demands on his time now than when he led Toledo. But he seems to be keeping track of everything to this point. Illini Nation will find out how well he and his staff are doing September 1, when Western Michigan invades Memorial Stadium.

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