Numbers That Matter

With plenty of able bodies at wide receiver, coach Mike Bellamy is looking to turn those numbers into stats that matter.

CHAMPAIGN – Quantity isn't in question for the Illinois wide receiver unit.

There's currently 15 scholarship wideouts taking part in fall camp, so there's no shortage of bodies.

It's the quality of all those options that's yet to be determined.

That's fine, says first-year coach Mike Bellamy.

"We can't go draft anybody," he said. "We can't go trade for anybody. That's all we got. So the thing about it is they're excited for the opportunity. I'm excited to coach them. I'm excited about the challenge. I love a challenge."

The unit is diverse, if nothing else. Seniors Ryan Lankford and Spencer Harris have started at least one game in each of the prior three seasons.

After that, the two-deep takes a few twists and turns.

Junior college transfer Martize Barr use to play defense at New Mexico. Steve Hull use to be a safety. Miles Osei use to be a quarterback. Justin Hardee use to be a cornerback. When framed up, it seems like the group is a bunch of athletes thrown together in the hope that one or two pan out. That's keeping expectations from outside the practice facility in check, a negative slant that Lankford says the players are using for their benefit.

"We feed off that," he said. "We like to keep it as a little chip on our shoulder, something that will give us a little extra boost, a reason to work a little extra harder."

Another reason to put in extra time: Bill Cubit's arrival as offensive coordinator. It's no secret Cubit likes to throw the football. And, as seen from his time at Western Michigan, he's OK with sharing the wealth and mixing up passes all over the field to a variety of targets.

"Is there pressure? Not that we're not willing to take," Bellamy said. "One of the things that you look at, when you've got an offense like Coach Cubit's, his resume it speaks for itself. We've seen on the same team that he coached where a guy caught 140, (another) caught 80, (another) caught 70. That's not pressure. That's excitement. If you're a receiver and you caught 30 passes last year and now a coach who throws the ball that many times is coaching you, that's excitement."

Bellamy said he's noticed his guys doing subtle things to try to gain an advantage in the fight for more playing time. Many of the guys have been running an extra 15 yards after catches, just to put in extra work for conditioning. There's extra work going on in the film room, too, in the effort to be better mentally prepared.

"My receivers already know who's getting the ball based on the defense's coverage," Bellamy said. "That's how we feel is the fact that we already understand I want them to be smart enough that I don't want just a slot receiver, just a Z or an X. I've got wide receivers that are smart enough to play every position on the field. Coach Cubit is going to put them in a position to be successful."

Early in fall camp, Bellamy challenged his students. He told them the likes of A.J. Jenkins, Brandon Lloyd, David Williams and yes, even Mike Bellamy, who starred for the Illini in the late 80s, weren't walking through the door. Those players are in the record book, but they won't be in the huddle this season.

In other words, it's up to the quantity to become quality.

"I told them, orange and blue deserves to win right now," Bellamy said. "We're going to put ourselves in a position to be successful."

Illini Inquirer Top Stories