Coach Sims May Have The Best D-Line In Nation

Praise continues for the outstanding defensive line group assembled at Illinois. It is aggressive, quick, strong and deep and has a chance to become the best line in modern Illini history. Much of the credit for this development must go to Coach Tom Sims.

Tom is the consummate teacher, pushing his charges hard but knowing when to let up on the reins. He is tough, but he can also be funny and uplifting. Off the field, he can flash a big smile and personality to match.

But put a microphone in front of him, and Coach Sims becomes an expert in coach-speak. He is careful not to single out any player or become too effusive in his praise. Speaking after the last Wednesday scrimmage, Sims understated his evaluations of his group.

"I think they're coming along. What we need to do is watch the tape before we draw any conclusions."

Surely, resting starters Derek Walker, Will Davis, Doug Pilcher, and Dave Lindquist must demonstrate your pleasure with their play, right?

"We gave some of our guys some rest. We just wanted to take a look at some of our younger guys, give them an opportunity to see what they did."

Defensive end Jerry Brown has been out for just two practices after spending most of spring practice in study hall. But in those two days he has impressed with his quickness, including four sacks in the scrimmage.

"Jerry's a talented kid."

Coach must be jumping for joy watching his guys perform at such a high level. Isn't he sleeping more soundly than some of his peers on the staff?

"Well, it's a situation where the kids have to perform at the level that they're capable. We do have some talented young men, but when given the opportunity they have to show that talent and do what they're capable of."

The Illini have three defensive tackles who rotate with the first unit, Dave Lindquist, Sirod Williams and Josh Brent. And they have Anterio Jackson, Daryle Ballew, the injured D'Angelo McCray and rookie Reggie Ellis fighting for playing time plus Corey Liuget arriving in the fall. Still, some suggest there's a lack of depth at tackle. How can these two concepts be reconciled?

"This is a situation that's day-to-day. We have to evaluate them on a day-to-day basis. We feel like we're coming along up front, we've just got to continue."

Coach Sims will play anyone at any position who can help the team win. With that in mind, he is experimenting with different combinations including defensive end Antonio James at tackle on obvious passing downs to improve the rush.

"I'm gonna use everybody everywhere. I'm gonna try any kind of scenario I can to see what guys can do under pressure."

Sims did comment briefly on the two rookies in the group, tackle Reggie Ellis and end Whitney Mercilus. Both are in their first semester at the UI and have much to learn.

"I think he (Ellis) has a great opportunity to be a good player. He works hard, has his mind right. We're going to be patient with him, bring him along as the situation dictates, and just see what he does. I think he's done a good job and is working hard.

"Whit's doing a good job too. He's working hard, he's put on a great deal of weight. It's kind of a baptism of fire. You figure those guys should be in high school getting ready for the prom. I'm pleased with their effort and attitude."

Sims prefers to praise the team and shys from the limelight. His humility is real.

"It's about the team. It's not about any one position on the field. Our back end guys, our linebackers. I can't tell you how pleased I am how they're playing and progressing. We all work together and it all goes together. Both sides of the ball and special teams."

Sims will add two more defensive ends and the aforementioned Liuget in the fall, and all are highly promising. Still, he plays his cards close to the vest when anticipating their arrival.

"We're looking forward to them. They came here for the right reasons. We can't wait to get them on campus."

All Illini defensive linemen praise Tom Sims without qualification. They love the man and brag about him. He is an outstanding coach and teacher, even if it isn't always obvious in an interview.

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