On the Clock...

The spring game draft is as fun for the players as it is informative for the coaching staff.

CHAMPAIGN — With the first pick in the 2014 draft…

The Illinois spring game draft probably won't be as formal as the NFL version, but the proceedings are taken on a similarly serious level.

Illini seniors split into two groups prior to Tuesday, tasked with picking and choosing every aspect of the Orange and Blue rosters for Saturday's spring game. Players, of course, will be selected, but coaches, trainers, managers and even public relations staffers will also be divided up.

For a fun-seeker like senior defensive lineman Austin Teitsma, the draft is one of the highlights of his spring.

"It's really fun," Teitsma said. "It really is like fantasy football. Being the seniors, it's cool and kind of huge thing. You get pumped up and it gets things going."

The players get to have fun while setting the pecking order. Trash talk will surely begin in the locker room and will probably spill over to social networks. At least that's been the case in the past.

The coaches, meanwhile, will laugh and engage in the verbal warfare, too. But the staff uses everything as a tool for learning.

Linebackers coach Mike Ward, who will be the head coach of one team versus tight ends coach Alex Golesh, says he'll advise during the draft. He'll also be analyzing.

"We'll ask them, who do you want to pick? More importantly, we ask why because sometimes they see it a little differently than we do," Ward said. "Sometimes we have blinders on as coaches because we're concerned about our guys, making sure they play as fast and as hard as they can and making sure they're prepared and doing everything right on and off the field. These guys are around each other when we're not with them."

Ward spends his every waking football moment on the ground level with the inside linebackers. What the draft does is provide a view from high above, a perspective the coaches couldn't possibly have and one the players likely wouldn't reveal otherwise.

"You can definitely see which of the teammates guys trust, which guys are going to be the key players for when the year comes," Teitsma said.

The coaches speak with each player following the picks. For a guy selected high, it's most likely an easy conversation. For others taken later, the message is clear.

"I think it would bother me, the lower the draft it would bother me," Teitsma said, glad to be a picker instead of in the pool. "That's a good thing, too, because then you notice that you need a lot of improvement."

Said Ward: "It's a neat chemistry thing. If anything, it forces guys to play next to guys that sometimes they'll never have that opportunity again. They've got to grab them, coach them and get them going."

Game Format:
- Due to depth issues, some players could play on both teams throughout the game.
- The game will be played with a normal clock for the first three quarters and a running clock in the fourth (except for the final two minutes if the game is close).
- All drives after a score will start on the 27-yard line.
- All punts will be fair caught.
- Field goals will be kicked but there will be no rush.
Quarterbacks will not be live (if they're touched, they're tackled).

Illini Inquirer Top Stories