The last two years, Illinois assistant coach Jim Pry coached the tight ends and slot receivers. With the departure of offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Mike Locksley, there has been some shuffling of assignments.
New offensive coordinator Mike Schultz is now the tight end coach, and outside receivers coach Kurt Beathard is now working with the quarterbacks. So Pry must now be responsible for both the outside and inside receivers. He discussed the changes in his assignment.
"It was different when we also coached a tight end because he had to be involved with offensive line drills. And then you had the inside guy who was actually a receiver who dealt with receiver drills. I was always split up. I enjoyed it, it was a great group of guys.
"This way, we can put the passing game together basically in one room with all the receivers. One can see what the other's doing when I can talk to all of them at the same time. So it works out better that way."
Of course, Pry must now pay attention to three and sometimes four positions simultaneously.
"They're taxing me a little bit. I can't see everybody at one time, so I get a little irritated. But it's fun. It's a great room. I've got nine guys, and it's a joy to go to the meetings because they're a bunch of fun guys and good athletes. They want to be coached, and they listen to you. That's the fun part of doing this."
Speaking for his receivers, Coach Pry embraces the lofty status of his group.
"Offensively, we're putting this whole thing on our back. We think we're the best group and the most experienced group on offense, along with Juice. And we're the most athletic group on offense. We want that responsibility. We're excited about it."
There is a nice blend of experience and youth among the receivers.
"We've got a great group of young guys and a great group of old guys. They're really talented. It's really a super mix, it really is.
"There's Jeff Cumberland, Rejus (Arrelious Benn), Chris Duvalt, Chris James. They know all the assignments and are sort of pulling the other guys along with them and helping them out. That's a great factor for us. They're an experienced corps.
"Most of those young guys played in games last year. Fred (Sykes) played, A.J. (Jenkins) played. Jack Ramsey is a great athlete who we redshirted last year, and we're glad we did. He's making some plays out there, coming along fine."
Pry lists the players at the two outside and two inside positions.
"Ramsey's playing split end with Jarred Fayson, and those two guys should be able to hold that position for us. Inside, we have Fred Sykes and A.J. Jenkins playing one side, and Rejus and Chris Duvalt playing the other side. At the other wideout, there's Jeff Cumberland and Cordale Scott, who is another freshman who played some in the games."
Many people assume the slot receivers are the smaller, quicker players with the larger ones on the outside. But this formula varies depending on the player and situation. The inside guys must occasionally block linebackers, while outside receivers block smaller cornerbacks.
"Jack is a little smaller than Sykes and Jenkins. You look at Fred and A.J., they're guys that can probably get a little bigger and be 6'-1", 190 pounds. You look at Jack, and he's maybe a 5'-11" guy who's probably gonna max out at about 185. It's a factor because you're blocking big linebackers.
"Chris Duvalt is small, but he's fast. So we're relying on his quickness. Different guys you're gonna do different things with. We may not ask Chris Duvalt to block a big linebacker. He may have another responsibility when he's in there."
Receiver is a complicated position at the college level. With the experience and athleticism already present, two of the three main elements are present. The spring emphasis is on learning the offense better.
"It's really about route-running right now for us. And we've got some new stuff in, so we're trying to get that down too."