Defensive Line Competition Heats Up
CHAMPAIGN, IL – The University of Illinois football team saw their first live action of the spring with a brief scrimmage to end the fifth session of the year. The number one offense took on the number two defense and vice versa in the 40-minute scrimmage session. Head Coach Ron Zook discussed the progress after the workout.
"We did have our first scrimmage today," Zook said. "It was something a little different, a different look at things. Things went fast, but they were trying and that's all we can ask at this point. The defense had some takeaways today and that is something we have been stressing this spring. We didn't give up as many big plays as a defense, so I can see we are making progress."
SCOUTING THE DEFENSIVE LINE: This spring the injury bug has hit the defensive line, giving some younger players a chance to increase their playing time and create that needed competition. The veteran of the defensive front is junior Chris Norwell, who looks to start his third straight season at tackle. Sophomore Derek Walker has bulked up 30 pounds and continues to improve at the end position. Graduated senior Ryan Matha left a vacated spot at the other tackle spot, which has many battling it out for the starting job. Sophomore David Lindquist has been gaining valuable reps with the challenging of sophomore Tremayne Walker, junior Mike Ware and senior Josh Norris. The other end position held by Xavier Fulton and Sirod Williams is in flux as both players are nursing injuries.
Defensive Line Coach Tom Sims:
"Spring is a time for experimentation. We don't have a lot of experience and it's a good time to find out what some of the young guys can do. Competition is the name of the game and with the injuries and the position changes we've had to adjust to, we have a lot of guys pushing each other for reps. Xavier and Sirod have been doing all they can to get back in there, and when they do, that'll make things even more competitive.
"This spring we're working on our run fundamentals first and foremost. We're also continuing to work on our pass rush, but if you can't stop the run, you're not gonna need a pass rush, so that's our main focus right now."
Defensive tackle Chris Norwell:
"Overall the line is doing a good job this spring. We are way ahead of where we were last year at this time. The coaches are demanding more from us this year and we're just trying to live up to their expectations.
"Our goal this spring is just to improve our overall game against both the pass and the run. Coach Sims has us working a lot on fundamentals like our get off and winning blocks.
"I'm trying to take on more of a leadership role, especially for guys like Will Davis, who moved over from the offense. I know what it's like to change sides so I'm trying to help him make the adjustment."
Defensive tackle Josh Norris:
"Each of us [on the line] is our own individual, but we like working together and we know each other well enough to work off that individuality. The defensive line is cohesively expressive. We're expressive individually, but we know each other and we work well together.
"Last year Chris (Norwell) and Derek (Walker) were the most productive players on the D-line, but I think now the rest of us are progressing towards that level of productivity."
Media notes provided by the University of Illinois