Illini Work to Craft an Identity

With Tim Beckman's third set of spring practices in the books, effort and energy will carry team into summer workouts.

CHAMPAIGN — Tim Beckman had plenty of housekeeping issues to get out of the way following last weekend's spring game.

There was a lot going on.

Bears coach Marc Trestman addressed the team Friday morning. Former stars including Juice Williams, Rashard Mendenhall, Martez Williams and Dana Howard were honorary coaches during the Orange and Blue game.

So Beckman had lots of people to thank and topics to put first. Spring practices were finished, the game went well and momentum for the moment was Beckman's to behold.

Adding it up, everything served to "push us into a summer that's so influential to how well you're gonna be as a fall football team," Beckman said.

The third spring concluded since he took over, Beckman's program now becomes more player driven in the next segment of the process. The coaching staff can't physically help the players during weight training and practice sessions of summer. It's up to the seniors to organize and take charge.

There is a new rule that gives Beckman an opportunity for input though.

"This year the NCAA allows us to meet with our players for two hours a week during the summer," he said. "There's eight weeks that they're going to be training, so what a great opportunity to meet with our players and at least talk football with them when last year and previous years of college football you weren't even allowed to talk to them."

Every single bit of help… helps. How hot Beckman's seat is isn't up for debate. There's always pressure to win, but Illinois needs to get back to a bowl game after losing 15 of 16 Big Ten games in Beckman's first two seasons.

The offseason training and spring practices portions are in the books. Outwardly, Beckman has expressed satisfaction in the progress made while acknowledging there's always going to be room for improvement.

"As a coach you always strive to push your football team and your coaching staff and your program to the optimum," Beckman said. "Right now we are moving in the direction that I think we need to and that is again because of the leadership from this football team and family atmosphere that we can continue to build. Are we there yet? We haven't kicked off a game yet, but we are going to continue to strive to attack each day and win the day."

What does Beckman like about his team at this point? He's all for this senior class. The group has added significance to the Oskee Wow-Wow fight song. Oskee, to them, stands for Our Success equals Knowledge, Effort and Energy.

This senior group, according to Beckman, has a blue collar mentality that's easy for a coach to admire.

"They're not rah rah guys," he said. "They're into the things that make them better, studying film, in the weight room, doing the things to get better. I think that is an identity.

"They give us that effort and they give us that energy. They're a little more juiced than the other two teams that I've had."

And what specifically does Beckman note as needed improvements?

He's up front in saying, "everything we have to get better at."

But he goes into detail about developing depth along both the offensive and defensive lines, finding a pass rusher or three that can be disruptive and the cornerbacks maturing and making more plays.

All of that and then some must be addressed before 2014 kicks off. Beckman's tenure hasn't been much fun for anybody. That's the past. He's banking on the future bringing better days. Summer is the next step.

"I want it to be rock and roll, flying around, having fun in everything we do," he said. "We're going to continue to build that in the summer."

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