More Responsibility, More Opportunity

CHAMPAIGN – Due to a lack of overall depth, a handful of Illinois offensive players are expanding their responsibilities.

The most glaring example is junior Miles Osei, who rarely gets a chance to catch his breath at practice.

Listed as a quarterback, the 6-1, 200-pound Osei has also practiced at running back, wide receiver and is a key figure on special teams. While he spends more time in meetings than most players, the added responsibility sits well with Osei.

"The more positions you play, the more positions you know," he said. "It gives you an opportunity to get on the field."

Osei is part of a trend of Illini players expanding their availability on the field. Senior Graham Pocic has played all five spots along the offensive line, and has "been very impressive," according to coach Tim Beckman.

Also, tight end Jon Davis has received reps as a running back in certain formations.

"I hope that speaks very highly of this football team and the character of the football team, when you've got guys that want to play multiple positions to help the football team," Beckman said.

Co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales have emphasized spreading the ball around to multiple players. With opportunity comes competition, and Gonzales' overall message has been simple.

"What did you do today to separate yourself and stand out and prove that, hey, I want the ball," he said. "It's a little different. Show me what you can do with it and we'll get you the ball if you can do something with it."

For guys like Osei and Davis, that meant moving around, and, in the process, the offense has become more dynamic.

"It just makes defenses prepare to play different formations and personnel and things like that," Osei said. "It always keeps the defense on their toes and they have to play different thirds of the field."

It also shows Beckman that his team is buying in.

"That's what coaching is all about," Beckman said. "We've got young men on this football team that are willing to do what's best for this football team. That makes it pleasurable."

Special teams taking shape

With less than two weeks before the season-opener against Western Michigan, the Illini special teams units are beginning to settle in.

Nick Immekus has seized control in the battle to replace kicker Derek Dimke, now with the Detroit Lions.

"I think Nick Immekus has kicked extremely well throughout camp," Beckman said of the sophomore.

Taylor Zalewski's leg strength has impressed Beckman, who noted the redshirt freshman has hit kicks as long as 55-yard kick in practice. Zalewski's consistency hasn't been on par with Immekus, who has a leg up for field goal duty.

Beckman isn't ruling out using both and said most likely Zalewski will handle kickoffs.

While neither has appeared in a game, Tuesday's scrimmage performance showed promise.

"They didn't miss one (field goal), so that was good," Beckman said. "We were happy with that. We're progressing, there's no question about it."

Incumbent punter Justin DuVernois will retain his role as the starter, according to Beckman, with wide receiver Ryan Lankford continuing as the back-up.

"I'll tell you what, he has improved, improved, improved," Beckman said of DuVernois. "I mean he has done some outstanding things."

This and that…

Though limited, senior cornerback Terry Hawthorne returned to practice after sitting out Monday with an undisclosed injury. Offensive lineman Hugh Thornton remained limited, but said Monday he expected to return soon. … Beckman named linebacker Jonathan Brown and defensive linemen Akeem Spence, to this point in camp, as "defensive MVPs." Offensively, he listed quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and Pocic. … The team is scheduled to practice Thursday at 8:50 a.m.

Illini Inquirer Top Stories