Joe Gilbert arrived at Illinois from Houston in January to replace departed offensive line coach Eric Wolford. He is happy with his new job.
"I'm really enjoying it. The competition with the players, the kids have really competed out here. It is great to see. They're competing, they're trying to get better, and that's all you can ask for."
All the linemen interviewed say Gilbert has been a pleasure for them. They appreciate his approach, and they are grateful he has simplified some of the calls for them.
"We came in and have done things a little bit the way I'm accustomed to. Coach (Zook) was great with accepting that. Our purpose was, if we could get our kids to come in and play faster, we've got a chance to be better. We've tweaked things a little bit, and we're trying to put them in a position where they can be successful and be good for our offense.
"Especially in the offensive line, if kids are thinking and not playing fast, you've got no chance because they're not coming off the ball and being physical. The easier we make it, the faster our kids can play, and the better they'll be.
"I'm sure some of the techniques are a little bit different, but what we call is pretty much the same. The kids have been really good with the changes we have made, with taking coaching and making the adjustments."
Gilbert elaborates on the quality of people with whom he is working.
"We have Jon Asamoah and Eric Block coming back, and Randall Hunt is a seasoned veteran. We have some young tackles in there. Ryan Palmer's played a lot, and Jeff Allen. So we've got about 7-8 guys who have played a lot of football, which is good.
"They've been in the heat of battle, and they understand what it takes. They also understand that when we get them out at practice, we don't tank it. So it's been good."
Referring to freshmen offensive tackles Allen and Corey Lewis, Gilbert is working on developing a two-deep at the important tackle spots.
"We have some tackles that played a little bit last year and are doing a really good job. Then there's really good competition coming from Ryan Palmer and Craig Wilson.
Gilbert is also hoping to develop quality depth with young backups.
Gilbert had Allen and Lewis switch positions midway through spring ball. He explains why.
"This is the time when you try to find out what kids can do. We had Corey on the left side, and we've switched him now. You build some depth that way. If an injury occurs somewhere during the season, we have some options. The biggest thing in changing an offensive lineman from the left side to the right is the footwork and technique are totally different."
Gilbert must also work with the tight ends on blocking techniques. He was asked specifically about starter Michael Hoomanawanui.
"Mike comes down and works with us. Mike's a physical kid. He knows it's his last year, and there's a lot at stake for us and him. You see his intensity is there every day. That's what you expect out of a senior."
The Illini offensive line is a work in progress, but it is progressing at a good pace under Coach Gilbert. He feels good about their work so far.
"We're trying to find more depth at every position. You're not just playing with five guys and holding your breath hoping you won't lose anybody. I've been really pleased with both the first and second group. We're going to have some depth and that'll help with injuries. We wont miss a beat.