Corey Lewis will be missed. The Illinois strongside tackle made tremendous improvement since last fall and was a fixture on the first team line all spring. He will eventually be healthy and play again, so his comments from last week are still worth a look despite his temporary absence from the team.
Lewis was expected to start last year after lettering as a freshman, but he underperformed. He came back with a vengence this spring, as he explains.
"I've really bought into Coach Gilbert (Joe, offensive line coach) this year and what he asks us to do, and Coach Petrino (Paul, offensive coordinator). I think that's got a lot to do with it. I had a better off season than last year. I don't think last year I really bought into the program as much as I am now.
"I kind of grew up. I'm still 19 going into my junior year. I'm kind of young. I'm almost a senior, things are moving so fast. But I think last year things moved faster. As I get older, things are slowing down. I've just been able to get better.
It also helped that Lewis lost some weight.
"I was able to lose 23 pounds, and I lost a lot of body fat. About 5-6% of body fat. So I think that's helping me a lot. It's helped me move better and get to where I need to be better."
The change in offensive philosophy this year required linemen with more mobility and less body mass. Was he bigger by design last year?
"Yeah, we were supposed to come off the ball. I think you can come off the ball at any weight and go through four quarters. But I think it's better that I'm down. I'll be able to be more mobile as a tackle."
The strongside tackle always plays to the strong side of the field, necessitating learning techniques for both the right and left sides of the line. Lewis is versatile, so he was able to adapt to the change.
"It's sort of different having the tight end with you. It makes things a little easier because they've got to watch the tight end and then come to me. It's a little different playing both sides, but last year helped me.
"I went right to left and back to right. I think it helped me being able to play both. It's been fun with the new coaches. I'm really buying in to Coach Petrino's system. I've just been taking it all in, trying to get better every day."
Lewis likes Petrino.
"I think he's a good guy. He's gonna make us better. When things don't go well, he's on us. When it's going well he's on us. That's what we need to get better because you can never be satisfied with where you are. I think having him brings a new attitude to the team overall."
There are some adjustments to be made, like being in a three point stance most of the time as one example, but Lewis says Gilbert hasn't needed to make major changes in his teaching.
"Yeah, there's a little bit of difference on both sides, left and right, and all positions. We still do the same drills. Coach Gilbert is always a fiery guy, a good guy. He's a real good technique guy. We keep getting better day by day. He makes sure you're doing it right and being in the right place. Different plays, same technique."
There's also some adjustment depending on who is quarterbacking the offense. Nathan Scheelhaase threatens defenses with his running ability, and Jacob Charest has the more powerful arm.
"When Nate's the quarterback, you can expect him to be making plays with his feet. So you kind of hold that block for a little bit longer. Holding on an extra couple seconds might be the key block.
"With Jake, he'll sit in there longer because he's not as mobile. He'll look for someone to get open longer. Even then, you've still got to hold your block. I'm happy with him back there, being able to trust his arm."
In the long run, a redshirt year might be a blessing for Lewis. He will be much more mature and capable during his fifth year. But the Illini will undoubtedly miss him this fall. There is minimal tackle depth without him.