For Davis, Simple Description Not Possible

CHAMPAIGN - Jon Davis laughs and shakes his head when asked what position he should be listed at on the depth chart.

"To make it easy I'd probably say tight end," he said.

That helps with clarity, but it doesn't do the sophomore from Louisville, Ky., justice.

That's because he's been lining up all over the field on offense this preseason, a plan of utilization the coaches began preparing him for back in spring drills.

Coach Tim Beckman expands on the same question posed to Davis – what position does he play?

"Where he can help us at," Beckman said. "You know, because again, he's a young man that can flex out (at wide receiver), he can play tight end and he can help us in the backfield."

The 6-3, 240-pound Davis has the strength, size and agility necessary to catch passes, block and run the football. The coaching staff has yet to put limitations on him, setting up a wealth of possibilities for this weekend's season opener.

"Showing my versatility is definitely a positive," he said. "…I think the tight end position is getting more and more versatile, and I think that kind of molds to my body frame pretty well."

Physically, Davis seems to have his tracks covered. To prepare from a mental standpoint, he's watching more film, especially of running backs Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young.

"It's a little different then the rest of the guys in the tight end room," Davis said of his film study. "It's just knowing more, more about the offense and more positions and all that."

So what does he like best?

"No favorites, just trying to work them all out," he said.

Davis just wants the ball. And he wants to command attention, before, during and after every play.

"Hopefully the defense can start respecting me, seeing where I'm at at all times," he said.

Safety valves

Safeties Supo Sanni and Steve Hull were notable absentees on the pre-Western Michigan depth chart released Monday.

Both have missed practice time and are still limited due to undisclosed injuries. Beckman continued his hushed policy by declining to talk specifics of either player's availability for Saturday's game.

"We're going to have to check and see how that progresses this week," he said.

"You want to play with players that are proven and played before. Supo's played a lot of games and so has Steve Hull. Those are the young men that you look for to step up, but hey, we've got guys on scholarship and they need to step up and take over if they're not out there."

Senior Pat Nixon-Youman and sophomore Earnest Thomas have filled the starting spots, with Tommy Davis and Nick North listed as the backups.

"Both of our safeties are interchangeable," defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. "It doesn't matter if they play the field or the boundary, we rotate those guys accordingly and we make it a point that a guy has to know both sides."

It's unlikely anything will be announced regarding Hull and Sanni until just prior to kickoff, Beckman indicated.

"I'm not going to announce anything until that game time," he said. "They'll be out there practicing, but we're not going to put a football player on the field unless they're 100 percent ready to roll."

O-line still not settled

The depth chart also lists a starting offensive line, but Beckman indicated there still could be some changes to the unit before kickoff against Western Michigan.

"It's going to come down to a couple more days," he said.

Senior Hugh Thornton and sophomore Michael Heitz are currently the listed starting tackles. Redshirt freshman Ted Karras and sophomore Alex Hill are slotted to play the guard spots.

Senior Graham Pocic, who has spent time at all five positions on the line this preseason, has moved back to center, where he started all of 2011.

Pocic was surprised when informed by the media he was listed at center, a change made necessary due to an injury to Jake Feldmeyer (arm).

"I guess, yeah, so it's center for now," Pocic said.

Feldmeyer is around 95 percent, according to Beckman, and is expected to play. Sophomore Simon Cvijanovic, who started four games last year, will not play due to an undisclosed reason, Beckman said.

Depth on the unit is a "major concern," Beckman admitted, but he said the staff was making up for that deficit by cross-training players at multiple positions.

"I think it's trying to fit the best players that you possibly can and we had some injuries, there's no question, during the preseason," Beckman said. "There were people that had to make the move for necessity purposes so we could practice.

"But I also think it says a lot about our scheme, says a lot about our coach that coaches the offensive line (Luke Butkus) and take a center and move him to guard or take a guard and move him to tackle. Hey, this is what our offense is all about. It's easy to learn so you can play all these things to help our football team."

Returning to prominence

The coaching staff has named a host of players in charge of changing the return game into a positive and bettering the dismal numbers produced a year ago.

Tommy Davis has a firm hold on punt return duties, Beckman said. As for kick returns, Beckman said there was "a three-spoke returner," in tailback Ferguson and cornerbacks Terry Hawthorne and Justin Green. Junior defensive back Jack Ramsey was also listed at the position.

A goal of improvement is clear after Illinois ranked 118th in punt returns (less than three yards per attempt) and 120th in kick returns (less than 16 yards per) in 2011.

"The return game is very important," Green said. "It gives us great field position and, you know, it kind of takes a lot of pressure off the offense. Special teams, it seems are kind of like a small part of the game, but a punt return or kick return can change the whole game around."

Still in the discussion

While Beckman has referred to starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase as one of the top performers of the preseason, he's not ruling out playing time for backup Reilly O'Toole.

"That's a weekly deal that we look at, and we'll see how Reilly does," Beckman said.

Entering his sophomore season, O'Toole played in 10 games last season. He passed for 270 yards, with one touchdown and four interceptions.

"He had a good camp," Beckman said. "We'll address how that happens in practice each week. We'll make that final decision each Thursday."

This and that…

At least eight freshmen were listed as backups on the depth chart: OG Robbie Bain, RB Dami Ayoola, WR Justin Hardee, LBs Mike Svetina and Mason Monheim, DBs Ta'Jarvis Fuller, V'Angelo Bentley and longsnapper Zach Hirth.… When asked about the possibility of playing in inclement weather this weekend due to Hurricane Isaac, Beckman said: "I haven't seen TV in three weeks… Game preparation you've always got to be prepared for the weather." … Beckman said punter Justin DuVernois averaged 46 yards per punt during preseason practice.

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