Post Spring Zook Q@A: Very Pleased Overall

Another spring behind him, Ron Zook now sends his team off to what he often reminds them is the "the longest phase" -- the summer off-season. But does he send them off pleased with what he saw in the spring? And what are the key areas for his football team as it tries to repeat and even improve on a breakout season? Zook discussed all of that and more in this post-spring Q&A.

INSIDEILLINI.COM (II): How did you feel about spring practice overall?

ZOOK: Pretty good overall. There are some areas where we have to get better. We will get better. We're not supposed to be ready to play yet. But this will be a better football team than last year. You never know if the record is going to show it. We were a better team in year two than in year one, yet the record was the same.

But this is a better team than last year's team. And that is saying a lot because we're proud of last year's team and the guys that made that season happen.

II: How did you feel about Juice Williams' play?

ZOOK: He did some good things, but he has to do some other things better. He knows that. We've protected him, and that was the right thing to do, and he has done a nice job to this point. But the time has come for him to start hitting some of those passes he is missing.

I know he can do it because he's done it before. If not, then maybe he can't. But we all know he can. We've seen it. He knows he can. But no more excuses, it's time for him to do it. Period. Time to do it.

But let me add this: nobody works harder at it than he does. Nobody spends more time watching tape, throwing on his own, getting his receivers together in the off-season, staying after practice in-season. Nobody tries harder. It is just time for him to do it.

II: You got a glimpse of your running game. Any concerns?

ZOOK: We'll run the ball. Our system will always allow us to run the ball and Locks does a really good job calling plays at the right time. Spring wasn't a good indication because we didn't have our center or tight end, who is a great blocker, and had one lineman (Jon Asamoah) playing hurt the whole time. And against a very good defensive front.

Remember, in the spring game, neither quarterback could run the ball -- once you are touched you are down. You have to play it that way because you have to protect your guys. But you know how many yards Juice makes -- shoot, that they both make -- after first contact. Part of our running game is the quarterback running the ball.

And I think Daniel (Dufrene) will be fine. We'll have Troy back and he looked awfully good doing what he could do. Mikel (LeShoure) had never been through this before and Jason Ford will be here. I'm not worried about the running game.

II: What about the kicking game?

ZOOK: Maybe I'm just an optimist, but I have this hunch the kicking game is going to be pretty good. Your guy (Matt Eller) drilled his kicks in the (spring) game -- he's going to get a good look; another guy (Matt Brandabur) was consistent during the spring and the guy we have coming in (Derek Dimke) has a chance to be very good.

And now our punters have been out there some. We won't be putting punters out there who haven't been out there.

II: Looks like your defense may be all-world.

ZOOK: We'll see. We do have a chance over there, defnitely. That defensive front is going to be pretty good. Rodney Pittman really came on in the spring, that really helps. Helps our linebackers. And we have some cornerbacks who have played. So, yes, we have a chance.

II: Sounds like you're trying to downplay how good the defense can be.

ZOOK: (Laughs). Well, you never want to get ahead of yourself. But, yeah, our defense could be.... (laughs again)...well, we'll see.

II: Do you feel better about your receivers?

ZOOK: I do. Duvie (Chris Duvalt) is going to really help over there. Looks like that move is going to be a good one. Jeff Cumberland is starting to understand what a weapon he can be. He's been more consistent. And remember, (in the spring) we didn't have Rejus, we didn't have Ooh Ooh, and we have some real weapons getting here this summer. Those guys definitely will help.

II: Overall, sounds like you're pleased.

ZOOK: Absolutely. You know what I'm pleased about? We really got after them this spring. It wasn't an easy spring. It really wasn't. I thought it was so important, after having a year that a lot of people patted us on the back, that we not forget how we got there. And not forget that the last time we played, we got it put on us.

And for the most part, these guys responded. It was a tough spring for the players, for the coaches, for me. And those guys, players and coaches, really responded. That is what I feel best about.

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