CHAMPAIGN - Hang around Mike Phair long enough and you'll hear his favorite football term -- "get-off" -- a lot.
The Illinois defensive line coach's philosophy can be summed up with the term. "Get-off," as in, "Get off the darn ball! Quick!"
It's the trait Phair prioritizes in recruiting future Illini defensive linemen and the skill he works hardest to hone with his current players.
It's the trait he first noticed in Jamal Milan, a former three-star recruit.
"I've always said from the first time I saw him, his get-off -- his first step -- is really, really good," Phair said. "The key thing to play in this defense is you really have to have a good first step. I'd say that's the number one thing."
But Phair didn't give as positive of a review to Milan himself. The Illini coach wanted Milan to improve that get-off from really good to great.
"What I remember most from fall camp (last year) was more of when I was doing the bags because at first I was horrible at it," Milan said. "Coach Phair got on me. Eventually, I started to get my movements right. I started to get more power in it."
http://www.scout.com/college/illinois/story/1691443-illini-football-2016...Milan opened eyes at this time last year when as a true freshman, he wreaked havoc at and behind the line of scrimmage. True freshman defensive linemen rarely so quickly find a role. Milan earned the No. 3 spot in the defensive tackle rotation.
But a knee sprain during Week One cut his season short. Milan missed the rest of the season and eventually earned a medical redshirt, which could be a positive for him and the Illini in the long run.
"I was thinking that," Milan said. "At first, I was very upset about missing my first year because obviously you want to (play as) a true freshman. But with that being missed, I have grown a lot, just from watching film, going up to Coach Phair and going to him over and over again and asking for help. All the defensive linemen now are coming to me saying, 'Jamal, we expect more from you.' With that happening, I feel like I'm really happy with me having that four extra years."
For the second straight fall training camp, Milan looks like a future stalwart of an Illini defensive line that has major questions after this season. But that same Illini defensive line -- which features five seniors with power-five starting experience -- looks loaded with talent for 2016. Milan only elevates the group.
While Milan is repping mostly with the second string behind returning senior starters Chunky Clements and Rob Bain, he looks like he can more than hold his own with the starters. During the first three fall training camp practices, Milan has dominated the Illini second-string offensive line and has rotated in with the starters.
"It's always hard when you're young and you get hurt," Phair said. "Any time you're hurt, that's hard. But he's done a great job rehabbing, getting himself right and getting his body right. You see how much his body has changed. He's really, really come around and he's really worked hard."
Illini sophomore guard Nick Allegretti often duels with Milan at practice. He said what makes Milan tough to block is his "explosive hips" and "low center of gravity."
What's "low center of gravity" mean in non-football lingo?
"He can stay low," Phair said. "He can get his pads low. Once you can get a guy to play low like that and bend his knees, it's hard to move him. Then he's so strong and powerful."
Lovie Smith's defensive philosophy centers on takeaways, something the defense can't get without "get-off" and disruption from the defensive line. For the second straight spring, Milan is showcasing that he's an immediate-impact creator of havoc on the front four.
"I'm more confident now in my get-off," Milan said. "My get-off at first, my coach said I had a little bit of get-off, but it's something I needed to work on. Now, my get-off, I feel like I'm very confident in that. What I need to work on is my mental standpoint. I get frustrated when I don't win. But everybody's not perfect. I want to be perfect."