Ricker Looks to Establish Right Mentality

New offensive line coach A.J. Ricker is looking to instill a certain mentality in his players.

CHAMPAIGN - A.J. Ricker played for three different offensive line coaches during his career at Missouri in the early 2000s.

Drawing from that experience, Ricker felt he could relate to his new players at Illinois when he took the job with spring practice already underway.

Ricker's arrival was made possible by Jim Bridge's sudden departure for Purdue, six weeks after his was hired, announced on the day spring drills began.

"The good thing is, it happened to me," Ricker said.

"It was part of the deal. The good thing about it, you've got to keep re-proving yourself and letting them know."

Ricker hit the field running, so to speak, last Wednesday, aided by a few advantages to help him get established in Champaign.

He played a season for new Illini offensive coordinator Bill Cubit at Missouri and coached on his staff for another four at Western Michigan. That time spent together created familiarity, both personally and professionally.

Senior lineman Corey Lewis called the transition from Bridge to Ricker "a unique situation," adding that it, "was kind of weird, kind of different."

But Lewis said there was no acclimation period and that there was no doubt amongst the players that Ricker could lead the unit.

"I think he knew the system a lot better, so I think it benefits us in a way," Lewis said. "With him knowing the system a lot longer it's actually helping us and it translates on the field. He knows it more and knows when something is coming and how to adjust and do it and so on."

Ricker inherits an offensive line that struggled to find it's way in 2012. Starters Graham Pocic and Hugh Thornton are both gone, too, after exhausting eligibility. Ricker knows he has a work in progress on his hands.

"Right now I think the guys have a little doubt in what they can do, and I'm here to let them know that they are good, but some things, we've got to get better at," he said.

The transition to a completely new offense won't be easy. There are different steps and slides to adjust to, as well as a new book of plays to memorize and perfect.

Although the path to this point wasn't ideal, Ricker is now the man in charge of guiding the guys in the trenches at Illinois.

"I get after them pretty good, but I love them up," he said of his coaching style. "I'll be the first one to let them know how I feel, but I'll also put my arm around them and, you know, let them know that I'm here for them. I coach them hard. I want to make it as hard as possible so on Saturdays it's easier for them.

"The one thing I want to get going is the mentality. I want them to be a lot more physical, not to say they weren't physical last year, but you've got to have something. If you're struggling in talent you better be a mean and nasty guy. That's what I'm trying to get instilled."

Achieving Ricker's goal will take time, more than anything else. For a unit now under the direction of it's third coach since December, stability is the first step in the right direction.

"You can't really teach it, but the guys can believe in themselves more," Ricker said of the mindset he's looking to instill.

"We're not that far off. I want the guys to have confidence. Everyone uses the term swagger, but I want us to get up to the line of scrimmage and know that we're going to dominate. I don't know that we're there."

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