Ron Zook and his Illinois football team look forward to battling Missouri in the Edward Jones Dome Saturday in St. Louis.
"Game week is finally here," Zook stated to open his press conference Tuesday. "Not only our fans, but our players and coaches are all excited and are looking forward to Saturday. As a football staff and football team, we want to see if we've learned the things we needed to learn in the off season. We feel like we have.
"We have a great challenge in front of us. Obviously, Missouri is a good football team, a very well coached football team, a team we haven't beaten yet. Our football team has used this game not only as motivation in the off season but fall camp as well.
"One benefit of playing a team like Missouri is it forces your guys to get ready. It's not gonna be a warmup, it's gonna be all-out. We're all looking forward to it, and it's gonna be here before we know it."
Other highlights of the press conference follow:
* On Josh Brent's status: "Josh is scheduled to play. There's been an awful lot of thought and discussion put into it. Josh will be the first to tell you he made a very serious mistake. But on the same token, Josh did the punishment. He's been nothing but a first-class model citizen. He took the punishment and never complained, never waivered.
"It was important for him to become a better person, and he's shown us that in every regard not only on the field but off the field as well. When you make a mistake, we all want to get better from it. There's no doubt in my mind he's gotten better from it.
"I've had conversations with Josh daily. I feel like I know him extremely well. It was important to me, and that's why we waited so long. This is our program, and we want to make sure we're doing the right things. Obviously, he was relieved and excited."
* On Daniel Dufrene's health status: "Daniel's gonna practice today. He says he's ready to go. We thought he was gonna practice yesterday, but he didn't get back from being fitted for a brace for his ankle.
"On Sunday, he was in the whirlpool running around and said he felt real good. Of course, when he gets into weight-bearing it makes a little difference. We'll know more after practice today.
"The brace is similar to what Pierre (Thomas) wore. You see a lot of them more and more. It's a custom brace. It's probably an expensive way of taping ankles."
* If Dufrene can't go, who replaces him?: "Jason Ford, who's had a great camp, Mikel (Leshoure) has had a great camp. Troy Pollard has had a great camp also. We feel as a coaching staff we can win with all of them. And we really felt from the very beginning it was gonna take all of them.
"The one thing about the running back position, and I go back to two years ago with Rashard (Mendenhall), it was the sixth game before Rashard became the guy. All of them have their strengths and weaknesses. All of them have a little package.
"I think you go with the hot guy. Sometimes, a running back needs a few plays to get going. You look at the difference in Jason and Mikel now as compared with last year, they're not the same guys. They've had really good freshmen years and did a great job.
"To me, they're different backs. It comes from a confidence factor, a maturity factor. They look different, they feel good about themselves. They're in great shape, and they know what to do. Football is a reaction game, and the more you do something over and over, the better you're gonna be.
"I said it in the spring with Troy Pollard. Here's a guy that's finally 100%. Troy does some things that are pretty special. He's got that little wiggle, and he has great hands out of the backfield."
"Justin Green has had an unbelieveable camp. Don't be surprised if Justin is one of the freshman with a chance to possibly play."
* More on Jason Ford: "He's a different guy from a year ago, and rightfully so. He's a year older, he's a year more mature, he's a year stronger. He knows the offense, and he's got moves. Jason's never been one to carry on a long conversation, but he smiles occasionally now and is having fun. But a really tough, physical back. He and our linebacker Martez Wilson had some head-on, face-to-face collisions in camp, and they rocked the ground. He's had a heck of a camp."
* On possible freshman to play: "I think Justin Green's got a chance to play. Terry Hawthorne has a chance to play. Michael Buchanan has a chance to play. Hopefully, that list is a little smaller than it's been since we've been here. The ideal situation is to play, particularly in the first game, fewer players. Corey Liuget played only three plays against Missouri last year.
"Just because they're not ready to play Saturday because it's a big competitive game, it doesn't mean that 2-3 weeks down the road (they won't play). They're gonna continue to get better. I don't think you make the decision to redshirt a guy until it's no longer feasible, so you won't waste a year for him.
"Greg Fuller's another guy who has an opportunity to play. He's the one fullback on our roster. Whether he plays Saturday or not, it doesn't mean he won't be in that type of package. I think you will see Greg Fuller play this year."
* On Terry Hawthorne: "We've worked Terry the last week and a half on defense, and he could play either offense or defense. He's a real good kid, and I've been very impressed. We played him on offense up until the last scrimmage at Rantoul, and that was the first day he was allowed to have live contact. He dropped the first pass but did a heck of a job from then on.
"You always talk about guys that could possibly play other positions. With losing Miami (Thomas), with one guy down in the secondary (you need more depth). If you watched him in the State Championship game, he's a very talented guy, a tough guy who can run. We've worked him in there, and I think he's got a pretty good chance to play.
"He's a smart guy, he's football smart. He picks up stuff well. He's kind of a gym rat. He's a guy that spends a lot of time. He wants to learn.
"The offensive coaches made me put it in writing that they had the ability to bring him back on offense if we made that move. Terry's a very talented guy, and I would probably see Terry going back to offense. If not this season, then next season. I think he's a guy that could possibly play two ways down the line. I tried to get Vontae (Davis) to play both ways. Vontae's one of those guys that got tired."
* On punt and kick returns: "We'll probably start off with Jarred (Fayson) being our punt returner. Jack Ramsey has done a great job, as has Dere Hicks. And kickoff returns will be Rejus (Arrelious Benn) and A.J. Jenkins."
* On Jarred Fayson in his first game in 20 months: "He's gonna be like Rejus was. I always tease Rejus about this, but he was hyperventilating before the game. I didn't know if this guy could go or not. I think that's the excitement of the game. He has been there, he has done it. I think all of them the first few minutes, the first few plays, it's an exciting time.
"But Jarred is excited, he really is. He's just looking forward to getting back out there. He loves to compete. I'm excited to see him out there myself." * On Jeff Allen's transition to left tackle: "He has come light years. I remember we were getting on him all the time on conditioning. Now, he plays like a junior or senior. His leadership, the way he communicates, his confidence level. He's had a great camp. He's at 310-312 but looks like he's at 285-290. He's really blossomed into a heck of a football player."
* On the improvement in Garrett Edwards: "I brought Garrett up in the meeting Monday. There's many, many a night I leave this office, and he's in there studying film. He'll have Tavon (Wilson) or Travon (Bellamy) in there with him. He's made the effort to really study and get better.
"I pointed it out to the football team. It's no secret that guys that work extremely hard and do the things they have to do, it shows up."
* Is Donsay Hardeman recovered from his neck surgery?: "Never one time has Donsay ever shown any signs that he's different than he ever was."
* On Jon Asamoah: "He's out there today. He makes a big difference when he's out there. He's quiet and doesn't say a lot. But he's an awfully good football player."