Illini Inquirer publisher Jeremy Werner answers your Illini football questions

You sent in your Illini football questions, and Illini Inquirer publisher Jeremy Werner has answers

Is Lunt not confident in his leg to be a little mobile when things break down in the pocket? I know WR's drop key passes and OLine didn't have a good day in pass protection but there were some running lanes or plays he could have improvised when things got bad. - tscott14

I asked Bill Cubit if he discourages Wes Lunt from running, Cubit said: "When you move around the pocket, we want him to keep his eyes up. We got scramble drills. We think we can get more big plays with the scramble drill when our (receivers) are running around than he would if he just ran it. He broke the pocket, I think twice, on Saturday and gave us one big play and the other one should've been a first down, but we dropped it. I'd much rather do that, keeping his eyes up. Ryan calls it 'pocket presence,' 'pocket toughness.' He's moving better than he has in the past."

Basically, I think that's a "Yes." I thought Lunt should've run on one of the rollouts where no defender was within 15 yards of him. Lunt is slow, but he did play three years of basketball in high school, so he knows how to run. But the staff wants him to pick his spots very wisely because they know they can't have a surprise season without Lunt. In fact, Lunt would likely be THE reason for a surprise season. He should only run on rollouts where he can safely run out of bounds. Otherwise, he's most dangerous as a thrower.

Lunt is not a mobile quarterback. And while you'd prefer to have a guy who is good at passing and running, Lunt is really, really, really good at passing (his stats should be much better if it weren't for the receiver drops).

I think we got our first clear evidence we really miss Dudek.  However, I'm really disappointed in what we're getting from our receivers, several of whom had drops in key spots (even Ferguson had a really bad one).  It seemed there wasn't much of an effort to go to TEs in the UNC game, given the WR struggles I'm surprised?  Jeremy, who will catch the football on this team besides Ferguson? - ILLveteran

I wrote all about the WR struggles here. The problem is you can't count on anyone right now. It's obvious that Wes Lunt trusts Geronimo Allison more than most, which is why he has a tendency to lock in on G-Mo, much like Nathan Scheelhaase did with A.J. Jenkins. You have to trust that your receivers will do their job, and most of the receivers are still earning Lunt's trust.

Marchie Murdock (15 receptions for 142 yards) has done some nice things but also made some huge errors. I saw a lot of struggles out of Malik Turner during camp, so his struggles (just two catches so far) aren't THAT surprising, but it is alarming for a guy who was expected to be a difference-maker. He's really struggling with his confidence and has ever since he arrived.

I saw a lot of flashes out of junior Dionte Taylor during camp, but he also was inconsistent and seems to have lost a lot of playing time to Desmond Cain. If Cain and Mays continue to produce, they could take on even larger roles.

The coaches say they like to use the tight end a lot when they have good ones, and you'll see them get a lot of work in the "12" packages (double tight ends, sometimes with an H-Back too). But Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse combined for just 29 receptions last season, and that was a pretty good tandem. 

Tyler White isn't a great receiving threat but I'd expect him to continue to be a redzone threat (two of his five catches this season are TDs). But he will miss Saturday's game with a concussion. This tight end group has really been hurt by injuries. H-Back Tim Clary, who may miss the season with an upperbody injury, was having a great start to the season. He's a great lead blocker and a great receiving option in the flat. Nathan Echard will have to step up in his absence. Also, freshman Caleb Reams will likely miss more time with an injury, though he likely will redshirt.

JUCO transfer Andrew Davis is a nice prospect, but he's pretty thin and it usually takes JUCO prospects half a season to really settle in at this level. But he is by far the best receiving target in this group and should have some more opportunity with White out for a game. Ainslee Johnson might be behind walk-on Nathan Echard at the H-Back spot at this point.

This has been talked about some, but what in the world is going on with Malik Turner? Thought he would be a solid #2 with GA. Could he have an injury, or is it more just not meshing with Lunt's style? Seemed like a lot of his success last year came late in the season when O'Toole was playing.   - IlliniDave34

As I mentioned above, Malik really struggles with his confidence. He seems to work hard but he's just struggled to adapt to Cubit's intricate offense, which calls for wide receivers to be very precise in their route running. You can't run 10 yards on a 13-yard route because the quarterback starts to throw the ball before the receiver gets there. He needs to string a few good practices together and turn that into a good game or two. The talent is definitely there. The mental part has yet to arrive.

As Mike Bellamy told me two weeks ago, “He’s always had the athletic ability that could just get him by, and I think right now the mental part of the game -- when he struggles with that -- it affects the physical part,” Bellamy said. “Because mentally if he’s not 100 percent sure, he runs his route short, he drops the ball or he blows an assignment. That mental part just takes him out. In our offense, you have to be just as sound as Wes as a receiver.”

Later, Bellamy told me this interesting nugget on Sam Mays: “Sam’s just like Malik. ...They don’t want to dsiappoint you. They got to understand, I’m not here to criticize you. I’m here to coach you. Just play, but I want you to be able to play full speed. For me, it’s about how do I press the right buttons? How do I get these guys to start doing the right things?”

Was 227 yards rushing the result of an extremely weak UNC DL, improvement from the UI OL, both, or some other factor? - Soxfreak64

Definitely "all the above." I was not impressed at all with UNC's defense. That's why it was so disappointing that Illinois didn't put up 30+ points. They don't have much up front and any talent they have is unrefined. I thought the offensive line did OK in the run game. There weren't as many missed assignments and they got a few nice pushes. But this won't be a dominant run blocking team. They just have to execute their assingments in the zone-blocking scheme and a get a few nice pushes. The biggest difference was Josh Ferguson. He was fantastic in his one-on-one battles. Jukes, spin moves, quick cuts and bursts. He showed it all. And he's shown more of a willingness to lower his shoulder. He's confident, which is good. The Illini need him to be special, just like Lunt.

Maybe this is off-topic, but I've got a question concerning Tim Beckman:

Do you think Illinois fans have been fair in their view/assessment of Beckman's firing?

Most people (myself included) view Beckman's firing as a positive for our program and as a chance to start the rebuilding process (at least coaching-wise) sooner rather than later. Because of that, it seems like most people (myself included) have completely accepted his firing and have not even questioned whether he was treated fairly and ethically by the university. Mike Thomas obviously alluded to very serious player mistreatment, which certainly merit firing, but he hasn't been able to provide any evidence (and won't until the investigation is complete). If Beckman had led Illinois to a 9-3 record and a really solid bowl game last season (obviously extremely hypothetical), don't you think more fans would be sticking up for Beckman and be more anxious for the investigation results to come out? As it is, many seem interested in the investigation results but only for the purposes of seeing how the results might affect the other remaining coordinators/assistants.

It's not that I think Beckman shouldn't have been fired, I just think many of us would be more critical of his dismissal if we didn't have so many other reasons for wanting him to be gone. I'm curious to hear your thoughts.  - ToughNTogether

I've been saying this since Beckman was fired: whether or not you wanted Beckman fired, we have to make sure that the reasons Thomas supplied for Beckman's dismissal are sound. The external investigation details -- expected sometime this fall -- are key in providing us with context. 1) Why was he fired? What was the "smoking gun", if there was one? 2) Are the reasons morally objectable or just kind of what we expect in big-time college athletics? 3) Does his firing have an effect across college sports (changes what coaches can/can't do or say)?

Your questions about if Beckman were a winning coach are valid, but they shouldn't be for Thomas. If he cites this investigation as the reason to fire Beckman, then it shouldn't matter if he's 4-20 in the Big Ten or 20-4. Thomas had reasons to dismiss Beckman (with his buyout) after each of Beckman's three seasons. Using the investigation as an "out" of Beckman's contract would reflect terribly on Thomas. But I'd hope lawyers and the university leadership would not allow that.

Beckman may be gone, and most Illini fans might be happy about that. But there are more questions than answers about why he was fired. The investigation should mostly answer that question, and we -- and the courts -- can determine whether the reasons for the dismissal were justified.

Can a HC pull a scholarship without the approval of the AD? - TheBeastisBack

A head coach cannot pull scholarships. I was sure of that but asked about the process from UI compliance director Ryan Squire just to get more details.

"Coaches don’t pull scholarships," Squire said. "It actually goes through the campus financial aid office. The coach can recommend cancellation of aid but then the financial aid office issues a letter to the student notifying him/her of cancellation of aid. The letter includes notification of the student-athlete’s right to appeal the cancellation to panel of individuals outside of athletics. In the past, athletic aid could be cancelled at the end of each year during the annual renewal process. Starting this year, athletic aid can only be cancelled if the student-athlete voluntarily withdraws, engages in serious misconduct, or is academically ineligible. Also, schools can put non-athletic conditions directly into the financial aid agreement. If a student-athlete violates those terms, the aid can be cancelled. For example, we put a clause into all financial aid agreements that says aid can be cancelled for serious or repeated violations of team rules, DIA policies or the University Student Code.

Any recruiting update on the LB Sutton, the S Bryce Banks  and the WR Ballard (I know he has some grade issues)?  I thought all 3 were getting close to making decisions and that we were in very good position with all 3? - Geo408

The Illini are still recruiting all those players.

The Illini really want to close it with Banks in August. But then he kind of went silent. He really enjoyed his trip to Illinois this summer and last I heard, his mom kind of slowed down the proccess to make sure he was making the decision. Not a bad approach for a kid who already decommitted (from Mizzou). Then Beckman got fired. So we'll see. But Illinois really wants him. He'd add much-needed size (6-foot-3) and physicality at cornerback.

The Illini were hoping to close the deal with Ballard, and he's said nice things. But he's having a monster senior season and some think he's waiting for bigger offers, especially Mizzou. The Illini offered before anyone. While it's not clear that he'd get through admissions for the fall semester, the Illini would commit a scholarship to Ballard and hope to have him join the program sometime in 2016. Ballard is a special athlete.

Sutton is still in play for the Illini, and he's called Illinois his leader recently. Expect the Illini to get an official visit this fall and for Sutton to make a decision after the season.

I have to admit, my interest in football recruiting has diminished over the past couple seasons because of the lack of interest from bigger recruits.

1.) What 4-5* guys or 3* guys with a bunch of big offers are seriously considering Illinois? When the on the field results are iffy at least I can usually look forward to certain recruits or recruitments, similar to the bball program.

2.) What's the realistic projection of our QBs behind Lunt? I realize it's early but do they have any certain intangibles that lead you to believe they can make big steps in their development? It just seems that our best chances of winning anytime soon is over the next two seasons as we have Lunt and are able to start a lot of veteran players. After that it feels almost like we will go through another rebuilding phase.

3.) Any word on what TB is doing? Is he still in town? Hear any rumblings whether he secretly likes to see the team struggle now that he is out and for the first two weeks everyone praised the wins on TB's firing? I'm sure that one is harder to answer. - tmbenne

1) There aren't a lot of four- to five-star prospects they're hunting right now. Five-star prospects right now are just unrealistic right now, unless they have some built-in love for Illinois, a la Gabe Megginson (a four-star prospect) last season, or some crazy-good relationship with a coach. There are some guys who are basically four-star prospects that the Illini are in on (though have work to do), including Michigan OT Alaric Jackson and Florida LB Kenneth Ruff. The Illini also offered three-star Georgia WR Jair Anderson and are hot after Nashville WR Rontavius Groves, a former teammate of Illini RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn.

2) Chayce Crouch has some similarities to Reilly O'Toole. Both are good athletes and bigger than most people think (6-foot-4). Both are really smart but have hitches in their delivery and have limited arm strength. But O'Toole took until his senior season to have consistent success (mostly as a game manager and runner), and Crouch is just a redshirt freshman. Actually, Crouch has a similar mold to Jordan Lynch (no, I'm not saying he'll have that success - just that he plays that style). It'd be a much different game plan, and smaller script, with Crouch. Jimmy Fitzgerald impressed me the most during fall camp. He doesn't do any one thing great, but he's at least above average in everything. Jeff George Jr. has better arm strength, but Fitzgerald is bigger, stronger and much more mobile. Crouch is a better, bigger runner, but Fitzgerald is a more accurate passer. And the staff might be most excited about incoming freshman Eli Peters, who might be  abetter version of Fitzgerald. If all are here in two years, it'll be a very interesting battle.

3) Beckman still owns his house in town, but I haven't heard if he still is in town. This was very tough not only on him, but his family. I do know, as expected, he was extremely upset about Mike Thomas' decision. Expect him to file a lawsuit. But he wants his coaching staff and players to succeed.

Will Cubit be the head coach at Illinois a year from now and if not, is Thomas going to make the hire? - aberger

The smart money would say 'no.' There are a few major things in play here.

First, Cubit and the staff must be cleared of any wrongdoing in the independent investigation of abuse. IF any are implicated, Illinois must go a different route. Even if none are implicated, will Illinois want to start fresh?

Second, Cubit needs to win, and the staff knows it. The feeling is that seven or eight wins would give him a great chance to earn the head job for longer than an interim basis. After the UNC loss, that becomes tougher.

Third, who is making the hire? Cubit's chances go up if it's Mike Thomas. He probably doesn't want to have to fire another coach, if he can help it. But this assumes that Cubit wins.

So while Cubit has the inside track to the job that others do not have, a lot has to go right for Cubit to keep the head job past this season.

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