Illini coach Lovie Smith: Mike Dudek 'totally cleared', Chayce Crouch 'right on schedule' in recovery

Illinois coach Lovie Smith updates the health of key offensive players Mike Dudek and Chayce Crouch

Mike Dudek hasn't been able to run the past two Aprils. But he reached that checkpoint this year.

Dudek, who has missed the last two seasons with a twice-torn ACL suffered during the previous springs, is "totally cleared" as of now, Illinois coach Lovie Smith said on Tuesday.

"He won't go through any contact work until training camp," Smith said. "But he's running, doing everything right now. Don't see any signs of anything wrong with the ACL surgery that he had. He has that same quickness that I've heard about but haven't been able to see yet."

Dudek was a Freshman All-American after hauling in 76 receptions for 1,038 yards in 2014, but he suffered a torn ACL the following spring and was held out the 2015 season. He suffered the same injury to the same knee during the spring of 2016, his first under Smith.

The Illini have been extra cautious to make sure Dudek returns to the field this fall, where he'd be a big boost to a passing attack that ranked 11th in the Big Ten last season and needs a complement to senior Malik Turner (48 receptions, 716 yards, eight touchdowns last season).

Illinois also needs its top quarterback to get healthy. Smith said junior Chayce Crouch is on track in his recovery from fall shoulder surgery.

Crouch did not go through contact drills during spring practice, which Illinois completed in early March. But he was able to throw during the last few practices.

"He's right on schedule," Smith said. "We transition into the other part of our offseason program now: lifting, running and all that. He won't have any problems."

Crouch suffered the injury during the first quarter of his first career start at Rutgers, but he finished the game. The previous week, he replaced injured senior starter Wes Lunt in a 34-31 overtime loss to Purdue last season. Crouch fumbled in overtime but impressed by completing 10 of 14 passes for 142 yards and running for 137 yards and two touchdowns.

"I thought he gave us a spark when he came in last year at the position that I thought our team needed at the time," Smith said.

While sophomore Jeff George Jr. started four games after Crouch's injury and received most of the spring reps, Crouch is the unquestioned starter going into the fall.

"He's our starting quarterback, undisputed leader of our football team," Smith said. "Just can't wait to get him back out there, but no issues as far as the surgery he had during the season."

Illinois has major questions entering Smith's second season after losing several defensive starters who will likely participate in NFL training camps this summer. But a healthy Dudek and healthy Crouch would answer two major questions on offense.

"Both guys are right where they need to be," Smith said. "We had some guys that missed spring ball. But the next time we get together officially to really get ready to play in training camp, everybody will be available and ready to go."

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