Ron Zook More Relaxed In Teleconference

Media conferences always run more smoothly after a win. Fighting Illini football coach Ron Zook spoke with the media by phone Sunday afternoon, and the victory over Michigan allowed him to discuss positives of his team's play. Even injuries seem to heal faster after a win, and Zook shared an injury update as well.

Success can be fleeting, so Illinois Ron Zook admitted it was nice for his players and coaches to relax for a day after a big win over Michigan before beginning preparations for another tough assignment at Minnesota.

"It was a little bit different. Obviously, it's one game. I feel very happy for our players. Everybody feels better about everything. But they also understand we want them to enjoy it today, but Monday we have to get back to work."

Tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Hubie Graham sat out the UM game with an ankle injury and back spasms respectively. How are they coming along?

"I think they'll both be back. Oh-Oh (Hoomanawanui) keeps tweaking it and tweaking it. He wasn't able to finish the Purdue game. He tried to go a little bit last week, but we felt we needed to give this thing a chance to rest and get better.

"Hubie felt much better today, so I think he should be okay. We'll know more tomorrow and as the week goes, but he felt better."

Arrelious Benn has not been completely healthy all season, and he reinjured his ankle yesterday. Hopefully, it will not prevent him from playing next Saturday.

"I asked Rejus how it felt, and he said, 'Not too bad.' But I have not talked to the doctors since they talked to him."

Much of the talk centered on freshman cornerback Terry Hawthorne. His emergence has allowed Dere Hicks to help out at safety after Donsay Hardeman was injured.

"Dere has perhaps played a little bit less (at corner). When that happened to Donsay, we had to get Dere ready to play safety as well. Dere can play both spots. I think Terry's gotten better and better the last few weeks. I thought it was time to give him a shot."

Will he start again this week?

"I don't know about that. He'll continue to play. He played pretty well, and obviously he made a game-saving tackle. We talk to them all the time about plays are gonna come to you, just be ready when they do.

"We'll have to wait and see what the meaning of the play is. There's no question the play turned the game around. As the season goes along, it may be a major, major turning for our season.

"He's a great kid. He's got a great work ethic. I'm real proud and happy for him. He'll be the first to tell you he wants to get better every day. He's not gonna get full of himself. In the secondary, you make one good play and one play later you can have a bad play.

"Back there, you can't make a mistake. He almost had a long one on him, but it was overthrown. In the secondary, you have to forget the bad plays, but you also have to forget the good plays."

Are you considering playing him both ways since he is also an outstanding receiver?

"Not right now. Maybe down the road. We haven't talked about next year, we haven't talked about projections. We're talking about getting the right guys on the field, trying to get them to play to the best of their ability. That's something we'll address at the right time."

It is extremely difficult to play both ways, so it remains to be seen whether Hawthorne can eventually handle both.

"Number one, there has to be a need. In his second year, I wanted to use Vontae (Davis) on offense because he was a playmaker and is a guy who can run and do all those things. There was a need at the position. I'm not sure there's a need at the position right now.

"It's awfully hard, as good an athlete and player Terry is, to play both ways. It's just impossible to get the amount of reps, the amount of practice necessary. It's been done, it's just hard to do."

The much maligned offensive line had a good game against Michigan.

"They played well yesterday, they really did. They continue to get better. Hugh (Thornton) gets better and better. I thought Randall (Hunt) had a nice game. Tyler Sands had been slowed during the week with a hip flexor. He was ready to go, felt he could do a little bit. We didn't need him.

"Corey Lewis got some plays in there when Jeff (Allen) came out early in the game. And Graham Pocic played a little to help Randall. If we can spot guys and not have to play guys the whole game, get them out of there a series or two, it just helps the production."

Juice Williams likely secured a start against the Gophers. Will Zook continue to seek playing time for backup Jacob Charest?

"I think that will be determined later on in the week. I obviously want to still work Jacob. We were gonna put Jacob in the game, but the way it worked out we didn't."

Some of the players indicated that former Illinois star J Leman gave an inspirational speech for them Friday. Did Zook arrange the visit for that purpose?

"J was here for the Big 10 Network. When they came in and did an interview with me on Friday, I just asked J, not necessarily as a guy to motivate the team. J has a lot of passion for this university and this football program. As a courtesy, I asked if he wanted to say something to the guys.

"What he said was quite touching. Here's a guy who's been through it. He's been through some tough times, and he's also been to the Rose Bowl."

Has Leman ever expressed an interest in coaching to Zook?

"No. But I've been told by a bunch of people we should hire him. Right now, J wants to continue to play football. Hopefully, he'll get that opportunity again. When that's all out of his system, then that may be something he wants to explore."

Fans bombard coaches with letters, phone calls and emails, either praising his effort or telling him how to coach. The emails after the Michigan took on a different tone from earlier in the season.

"There have been a lot of emails. I've been getting emails regardless. But they're just a little bit nicer now."

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