Disch Says Defense Is Making Great Strides

The Fighting Illini football team's defense has dominated the offense most of the spring. It has athleticism, experience and depth. But Co-Defensive Coordinator Dan Disch realizes the Illini offense is missing some parts, so he isn't ready to glorify the defense.

"They're playing a bunch of guys on offense, a bunch of receivers aren't playing, one of the running backs is hurt. They're going to be fine on offense. We're getting a little bit better. But we're not where we need to be."

The last thing Disch and his Co-Defensive Coordinator Curt Mallory want is for their charges to read their press clippings and rest on their laurels.

"You can't get a false sense of confidence," reminds Disch. "We're playing against some guys who could be in high school right now. We're doing some better things. My whole thing is, if we can get them to know what they're doing and play hard, then we've got a chance. We're doing better in that aspect."

Coach Disch is the voice of experience when it comes to understanding the ebb and flow of competitive sports.

"We've got some ability, but this game is so fine, the minute you start to think you're doing well, you're going to get your legs knocked out from under you. We've made some strides, but we're just going to keep driving."

The defensive linemen are probably the strength of the defense. But they must focus and play at a high level daily for the defense to excel.

"We've got a chance to have a fine defensive line. But they've got to play well. Our good players have got to play good, and our great players have got to play great to have a chance.

"In the season, our depth will help us. Last year, some guys got some playing time, and now we can blow them in freely and play 8-9 guys, which will be good. When we get in pass downs, the coach is gonna put his most athletic pass rushers in the game."

Some of the linemen are better pass rushers than others, so Disch and defensive line coach Tom Sims are experimenting with different combinations. One recent one saw end Antonio James at a defensive tackle spot on third and long.

"We'll get our four best guys in there, whether they're tackles or ends. (Antonio James) is a guy that can rush the passer, and we've got to see what he can do from an inside position. He's done better. Him and Clay Nurse can both be natural passers. But they've got to learn to play with discipline. You can't always rush the passer. He's done a good job of understanding that and getting better."

Coach Disch recruited star defensive tackle D'Angelo McCray out of Jacksonville, Florida, so he's disappointed that a second surgery on his knee prevented him from getting practice reps this spring.

"Yeah, we want him to get healthy and see what he can do. He came here with the ACL deal and didn't get to play much in the fall. And then as luck would have it, he had a meniscus deal and had to get that scoped. He hasn't been himself. He's got a long time to be here. If he'll continue to keep his attitude good which he's doing, and work hard and watch his weight, he'll play for us down the line."

Disch also coaches linebackers, so he has first hand knowledge of their progress this spring. There isn't much depth, and several players need experience. But he feels they have potential. In particular, he feels senior Brit Miller is doing well replacing the graduated J. Leman.

"Brit's done better than a lot of people thought he can do. He's a leader, he's been a three year starter going on four, and he knows what to do. He sets us up front, makes a lot of the calls and shows some leadership ability. He's just got to continue to work at it and he'll be all right. He's got a lot of speed, and he shows that sometimes."

Sophomore Martez Wilson has had some good practices on the weakside, beginning with last Wednesday's scrimmage. The light may have come on for the 5-star recruit out of Chicago Simeon.

"Wednesday was Martez's best day of the spring. If he'll continue to build on that and play fast, he'll be a good football player."

Illini cornerbacks are experienced and are the strength of the backfield, while the safeties are trying to replace three departed seniors. But Disch feels they are experience away from being a good unit.

"They (safeties) are like the linebackers. We've got some new guys, and they're going to have to continue getting better. Nate Bussey, Bo (Flowers), and (Garrett) Edwards are all working. And obviously when we get Travon Bellamy back, he's going to be pretty good. And we've got some good young kids coming in. We think we're going to be ok back there. It takes time. You can't give them experience."

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