Jeremy Werner

Werner Mailbag: Aug. 4

Illini Inquirer publisher Jeremy Werner answers premium members questions about Illini quarterbacks, Jordan Goodwin, running the web site and more.

Grillini: What is your take on how well the football team has handled the change of systems and is the change harder for the defense or offense?

The defense really doesn't change all that much up front. Mike Phair taught Lovie Smith's principles on the defensive line all of last year, and the linebackers and secondary were learning that scheme between Phair taking over as defensive coordinator in December and Smith's hiring in March. The secondary will run more press coverage and the safeties will have some adjusted responsibilities, but the defense should be ahead of the offense.

Speaking of offense, the quarterbacks now will spend a lot of time under center -- something they did rarely under Bill Cubit. The offensive line has the biggest change. They don't stay on one side of the center. They switch sides based on the call. For example, Christian DiLauro is the "strongside tackle" and Austin Schmidt is the "quickside tackle" -- meaning DiLauro will almost always line up to the side of the formation where the tight end starts. This means those offensive linemen have to be comfortable with alternating footwork. There were some struggles with that this spring. The run game also goes from a zone-run heavy scheme (which prioritizes athleticism and precision) to a power-run heavy scheme (which prioritizes strength and more north-south running).


bbfan25: Congrats on baby coming soon Which leads to question Assuming you will be taking some time off from this site and radio show. How will camp coverage be taken care of with you being in and out?

Thank you. Definitely an exciting time for my family -- though we could've probably timed this better! I have teacher friends who planned it perfectly to have summer baby. I didn't think that far ahead. Baby boy just kinda -- happened.

Anyway, I plan to take at least a week off of radio. Lon will have some fill-in hosts, and he'll do fine. As for the site, I will definitely take a few days off surrounding the birth of the baby. For the days I am gone, Derek Piper will help a little bit with coverage (though obviously with his focus being basketball, it may not be as in-depth, but I'll give him some pointers). If my wife is feeling good a few days after, I may sneak down to practice for a few hours to get some coverage in and come back to baby boy. Obviously, I love you guys but my family and we'll get you as much coverage as we can. But my family is my priority.


rtrott: Very concerned about the quarterback situation after this season. I know it's a ways out but do you expect the Illini to try and find a QB transfer for next season after Lunt graduates or do they have enough confidence in the QBs on the current roster?

The Illini looked at a few transfer options this summer. They also have kept an eye out for JUCOs who could add some competition. Garrick McGee probably will not have "his" quarterback in place until 2019, when Cam Thomas or another of his recruits is ready to compete for the starting job. But I do think the Illini have some decent options in the short term, but none that will seemingly elevate the rest of the team beyond its capabilities.

Chayce Crouch is a great, strong runner. I just have no confidence in him as a passer. Jimmy Fitzgerald looks like the best overall prospect. He's a good athlete, has a good arm and is a leader of the underclassmen. But will he be accurate enough? Jeff George Jr. has the best arm of the backups and had a strong spring game, but he's skinny and needs to show more consistency. Most I talk to think it will be a Fitzgerald vs. George competition next season. Yes, I think either will struggle. I'd put my money down on Fitzgerald, a more dynamic quarterback who reminds me a lot of Reilly O'Toole.


It feels like the basketball staff has not been able to take advantage of the momentum generated by the Tilmon commitment. If anything, it feels like the Goodwin and Frazier recruitments have become more uncertain and challenging. Maybe that's just a factor of each player having a different time-line and it will all turn it as expected in the end but nothing seems easy for this staff.

Personally, I think Illini fans are just have a predisposition to worry. Given the Illini's history, I understand it. But nothing is really off timing wise. As you said, each player has their own timeline.

I don't see why anyone is worried about Trent Frazier at this point. There was no buzz that he would commit before a visit. He has long called Illinois his leader -- like, for half a year -- and has set up his first official visit ... to Illinois ... in two weeks. If he doesn't commit, visits Georgia and starts to visit other schools? OK, then maybe you can start fretting a bit. But Illinois is in an enviable position for Frazier, so much so that some schools haven't jumped in on his recruitment because they think it's too late to sway him from the Illini.

As for Jordan Goodwin -- Piper has broken this down better than I could -- but SLU does seem to be a player. Travis Ford is doing everything he can to land Goodwin, including hiring his former AAU coach Corey Tate away from Mizzou (where Tate couldn't win recruitments over Illinois). He's selling Goodwin as being a huge fish in a small pond and to create a legacy at SLU, a team Goodwin grew up rooting for. If Goodwin chooses SLU, good for him I guess. He'd be blazing his own trail.

But I struggle to see why he'd choose SLU. 1) Illinois has recruited him harder and longer than anyone. They told him he was a big-time player before any other power-five program. 2) His boy Jeremiah Tilmon and friend Javon Pickett are both already at Illinois. 3) While Goodwin probably would lead SLU to an NCAA Tournament, he can be the best player on Big Ten Championship contenders at Illinois -- and would be a legend in Illini lore if he does. Goodwin is a different kind of cat. He's got a huge chip on his shoulder. He wants to feel respect and love and wants to win at a high level. No program has offered him a mix of those wants more than Illinois.

Oh, and Groce and his staff can't do much more here. They've done everything right in this recruitment. If they don't win this recruitment, ¯\_(?)_/¯..


ejehle91: For signing day last year, Jim Harbaugh had a signing day party and invited people like Brady a UM alum, Ric Flair, and a bunch of other more famous people. With Lovie being probably just as recognized as Harbaugh, do you think he would do something like this. Probably not half as extravagant but invite former bears, friends, etc to a signing day event? I'm not sure on NCAA rules but could he do this for an event like last weeks cookout?

If you hadn't noticed, Lovie and Harbaugh are a little different. Don't get me wrong, Harbaugh is a great coach, and I think he's phenomenal for the Big Ten and college football. But I just don't see Lovie using the same tactics. He's less about the show -- his SportsCenter hit was pretty bland, right? -- and more about substance. I do know the staff would like to get the Illini alumni, especially the big names in the NFL, back at the program more often. They didn't have enough time to organize a great spring-game event this year, but with more time, I think they'll try to build up a Signing Day/spring event -- just not to the level of Michigan.


buballfan: Any report on Yeast visit to Iowa?

I covered this a bit in the latest Trending Meter

Yeast attended the Illini barbecue on Thursday and stayed a few hours longer than expected. A source said "he didn't want to leave," but he eventually did and took a visit to Iowa over the weekend. Most were surprised Illinois made his final list of six, and they seemed to have done well on his visit. But another source said Yeast is most serious about Iowa, Ole Miss, Auburn and Louisville. This seems like a recruitment the Illini would have a better chance to win next year, possibly with some wins under their belt. Illinois has surprised that they've stayed in this recruitment this long. They'd shock everyone -- including me -- if they won it.


AxIllini: Coach Lovie said at the B1G kickoffs that he will let his coordinators have freedom to run the offense and defense. What about situational decisions and 4th downs and 2 pt conversions, etc? All based on the week's game plan and still in the hands of the respective Coordinators, or are those head coach calls? I'm curious if Coach will be more situationally aggressive (IMO, from recall, no stats to support this memory) than he was during his Bears tenure.

Most of these decisions are made before the game even begins. Most coaches have a script for situations (some based on percentages) and stick to it. Lovie does much of the same. He will let his coordinators make most of the calls. But if he disagrees or wants to discuss it, he will get involved during a game especially on these plays to which you are referring. Lovie mostly played ot his team's strengths, which mostly was defense -- which is part of the reason he was more conservative with the Bears. But that's also his personality, and it worked pretty well for him (few head coaches last 11 years in the NFL).


bigbillsing77: What year do you think they will start with the new construction of the horseshoe

I'm assuming you mean renovation of the horseshoe, which would include taking down most of the existing horseshoe. The football facility in the south end zone -- which according to Mike Thomas' plans would include new football-only weight room, staff offices, recruiting lounge and a Hall of Fame -- is priority No. 1 for Josh Whitman's facility projects. He said at Big Ten Media Days that he hopes to announce new facility plans soon, so I'd imagine you'll hear about these plans in the coming months. The increased media revenue and increased support from donors should help make this a reality pretty quickly.


tmiller33: If you are leaning towards 5-7, what do you think the record could have been had Dudek and Brown been healthy?

The main reason I see 5-7 is because of the lack of playmakers and depth on offense. So add the Illini's top playmaker and their good No. 2 running back into the mix? Yeah, I'd be pretty confident in a 6-6 season. But no receiver on the roster does what Dudek can do. And no running back currently behind Vaughn looks like a future starter. Brown did.


TheBeastisback: will Nichols only play the 3 or could he get time at the 4?

I think he'll definitely play both. He is a natural three and likely will play that role this year given Illinois' post depth (Black and Finke at the 4). But once Thorne and Morgan leave, Finke will play more at the 4 and the Illini will need more depth in the frontcourt. At the college level, Nichols has the strength and temperament to play the four (think Roger Powell in that regard). Like D.J. Williams, he can swing between the 3 and 4 based on match-ups and the makeup of the rest of the Illini roster.


HHSIllini: What band will be playing before our Homecoming game this year in Grange Grove? Last year's concert was phenomenal!

I have no idea, but I'm guessing a country band. This hard rock fan wouldn't mind a showing from Illinois natives Chevelle, but I'm not sure that's exactly "family friendly."


SumRoy: Have you guys, whether it be basketball or football, ever gotten a chance to visit an out of state player's hometown? As we recruit the south more, I want to better understand how a school like Illinois is received and also, a bit more about where players like Leron Black are from

Yes, I have. I love stories like this. I did one on Michael Heitz when I worked at IlliniHQ and it was a great experience. Fitting into the schedule could be difficult, but this is definitely something I'd like to do. It's important to get the right person, right family and right story.


aera0444: Do you think Lovie and staff will give you the opportunity to sit in during a meeting like previous staff did? I still think the "Inside the War Room" article you did last year was one of my favorites since I subscribed!

Honestly, not at this point. For one, Lovie is just more standoffish from the media than the previous staff. Also, I haven't had time to develop that kind of relationship with most of the members of this staff. Getting access like that requires full trust from everyone involved. I had built that up with Bill Cubit's staff. And by trust, I don't mean that I was always positive with them. I criticized them at times, but they always thought it was fair. They trusted me when I told them I wouldn't use names -- if I did, they would've had NCAA violations to report. 

The previous staff also had more of a desire to get that story out there. They wanted fans to know how hard they were working despite some terrible circumstances, and I wanted to show that story as honestly as I could.

It was fun. I hope to do it -- or something like it -- again, but I can't promise it any time soon.


TheGrandMan: Football- Where does our overall defense rank in the B1G by the end of the year?

I honestly think it will be between 5-9. That may sound low to some, but the Big Ten had three of the top-four scoring defenses last year and seven of the top-23. So even finishing eighth or ninth may be a top-45 national defense Lovie's defensive staff can flat-out coach, and if healthy, there is enough talent here to be better than last year.


IlliniDave34: Would groce take a commitment from Lewis, Scruggs or Wilkes before Goodwin decides? Would they give a commitment from Victor u John or epperson plus one of the guys above before hearing from Goodwin? Groce can't be left empty handed in this class waiting until October for Goodwin.

I understand these questions, but this rarely becomes an issue. Scruggs and Wilkes are going to take their official visits -- and if they don't, they're committing somewhere other than Illinois. Lewis is the more intriguing scenario, but he may commit to Iowa State this weekend, so it may not matter. Plus, Illinois might be third on his list right now. It would take some time  -- and visits -- to move up that list. But if Illinois takes a commitment from Lewis, I think that would tell us what they think of their chances for Goodwin.

Regardless, if Illinois doesn't land another wing in this class, is that so terrible? Don't get me wrong, I'd like to add any of those players or Nojel Eastern to my team. But does Illinois NEED another wing? They already have Da'Monte Williams and Javon Pickett -- two wings -- committed already. Jalen Coleman-Lands, D.J. Williams and Aaron Jordan will have two years of eligibility remaining when the 2017-18 season begins and Kipper Nichols will have three years of eligibility. Honestly, if the Illini don't land Goodwin, I'd rather they go hard after a big man. Or, at worst, they book the schollie for 2018 and sell the heck out of Tim Finke to take that wing spot.

But, yes, I'd want Goodwin over all. Again, he's the culture-changer -- and a damn good player.


brustjc123: Which AAU teams does Groce have the best relationships with? I remember Bruce always picking up guys from the Wolves and was wondering if Groce has certain teams he keeps going back to.

The relationship with the Wolves has not been near as close since Weber left, and Chris Collins has swooped in on that. But the Wolves also haven't had as much high-end talent recently. Groce's staff seems to have a pretty good relationship with the St. Louis Eagles and Team Meanstreets. The Mac Irvin Fire relationship is always complicated, but Illinois has to recruit those players. Honestly, though, it's about relationships with the people who matter in the recruitment. Sometimes that is the AAU coach. Othe rtimes, the AAU coach has very little influence.


ALock42: Congrats on the baby! I have my first one on the way as well that's due in January. If you have any tips I'll gladly take them. Say the team lands Goodwin and Frazier here soon. We know the staff would love to fill the last scholarship with a big man, but let's say they don't land any of their targets. Do you think they'd take a commitment from another wing (Eastern, Scruggs, Lewis, etc) or holding it for a 5th year big or for an open spot in 2018?

Congratulations! I'll give any tips I can, but I think we're all just winging it.

If the Illini take Goodwin and another wing, I count 9 wings on the roster in 2017-18: Coleman-Lands, D.J. Williams, Nichols, Jordan, Goodwin, Pickett, Da'Monte Williams and Lewis/Eastern/etc. No thanks. At some point, you need ball-handlers and rim-protectors.


bbfan25: How many times a day does Lon get told he talks to much ? From his co-workers to you guys to family ? Haha

Lon hit the jackpot. He's paid to talk, something he both likes to do and is good at.


illinivol: How many nfl players do you see on Illinois roster and who?

I'm just going to go with guys we've seen play (so no freshmen or redshirt freshmen -- sorry, Gabe and Jamal)

Guys I have little doubt will be on NFL roster: DE Dawuane Smoot, QB Wes Lunt, RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn, DT Chunky Clements, LB Hardy NIckerson, OL Christian DiLauro, WR Mikey Dudek (if healthy)

At least NFL training camp guys: OT Austin Schmidt, WR Malik Turner, CB Jaylen Dunlap, DE Carroll Phillips, DL Gimel President, DT Rob Bain, LB James Crawford


majgardner11: Are the coaching staffs pretty approachable or do they keep you guys at arms length?

Some are more approachable than others. I try to talk to them without a recorder or camera just to build some type of relationship outside of simple "I ask a question and you answer for the world to see." With Cubit's staff, I got to know those guys as people pretty well, and to some extent Groce's staff. If you're around enough and cordial, they'll start to get to know you a bit. I'm still getting to know Lovie's staff, but I've had mostly positive interactions so far. Of course, they haven't lost any games yet. There is always a feeling-out process between coaches and media.


majgardner11: How were you approached about becoming the Publisher for this site? How did you get Derek and Ryan to come on board? How are you managing this site and having a very good radio show? What has been the hardest part about being the Publisher?

In August 2014, former Illinois assistant coach Alex Golesh called me up one day before I was doing a radio show at Bunny's Tavern in Urbana. He knew someone at Scout who said they were looking at me as a possible candidate to be the new publisher. Alex, who I had a solid relationship with, basically measured my interest -- which was lukewarm. I didn't need to be publisher. I loved my radio gig and enjoyed writing for Doug at Rivals. It was a nice mix for me. Though, I admitted that I always wanted to do my own thing -- who wouldn't be drawn to a producer/director role. But after talking with Scout, I just didn't think it was feasible.

So the football and basketball seasons went by and Scout called back. I had the same level of interest. They made an offer, but it just wasn't worthwhile for me. If I was going to do this, I wanted to be able to be the best. I told them I wanted to hire this kid Derek Piper who worked his butt off and made a decent name for himself on his own. But it just wasn't feasible at that time.

Scout went silent for a month but came back more aggressive offer. I discussed it with my wife, who was nothing but supportive. I then met with Derek and offered him the job. The rest is (recent) history. Ryan has a separate deal with Scout, so he's been a big bonus to me.

Juggling two jobs and a family is a constant struggle -- and the most difficult part of being a publisher. There are times my wife wishes I would put away the laptop, but she knows my work ethic is what has made me somewhat successful in this tough business. But I also know, I DO need to close Twitter every once in a while. That will be even more important once the baby arrives ... wait ... nope, not yet. I think most working parents deal with that struggle, and my goal is to continually be aware of it and find a balance.

I love my job. There are difficulties, like making difficult budget decisions. We also want to be more than a recruiting site, so we try to provide a great quantity of quality content -- even if our staff size is small. That takes a lot of time and personal sacrifice. But I love doing it. We hope you enjoy the product.


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