Glenn Foster received minimal playing time at defensive end during his redshirt freshman season last fall. Listed generously as weighing 270 on his 6'-4" frame, some wondered whether a spring move to tackle was in his best interests. But it seems to be panning out well.
"I was surprised when they told me I was going to play inside," Foster explained. "I thought I was too small, but I'm not. I just have to learn a lot about the trenches. I get a little nicked up here and there, but I just play hard. I can't take a play off.
"When we came back from winter break, the coaches talked to me and told me they might need me to play inside. They talked to me about it last season too. I've had some experience playing it in high school. I was the starting nose guard."
The Chicago Mt. Carmel graduate feels he is making progress, as is the defense as a whole.
"We have a young defense, and a lot of us young guys are stepping up. We're learning pretty fast. In my eyes, Corey [Liuget] is a senior. He makes sure I know what I'm doing, and he's a coach himself. He makes sure the defensive line as a unit is getting to the ball and getting lined up right."
Foster likes the new defense installed by defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.
"This defense is more fun. It allows each position to make plays. We have all kinds of schemes and disguises. We have more opportunities to make plays. It allows us to get in the backfield and get to the ball."
Koenning is a tough taskmaster. Fortunately, he has gained their respect, making the job easier.
"He doesn't put up with anything. He's strict, but we're trying to be a top 20 defense in the country. We've got to be disciplined.
"He's doing his job, and I'm not complaining at all. He yells at you on the field and off the field just to make you better. He's a fun guy to be around, but you've got to stay on his good side."
Even when post-practice up-downs were enforced, Foster and the other defenders understood the reason for the punishment.
"For each person that loafed or took a play off, we had to do up-downs as a unit. We're responsible for each other's actions, and the unit is accountable for each person's actions. We win as a team and lose as a team. If one messes up, we all mess up.
"That was the first time I've done that, and I hope that's the last time."
After a scrimmage where the defense gave up six touchdowns, extra running was the order of the day.
"That's unacceptable, unacceptable. People were missing assignments, people were loafing, and people were depending on other people to make a tackle. There's a lot more discipline this season. He's making us own up to our responsibilities."
The Illinois offense was new this spring also. It posed numerous challenges for the defense, including adjusting to the styles of the three quarterbacks. Foster was especially impressed with redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase, but all three posed problems.
"Scheelhasse is difficult. When he does that play-action, he can run. You pretty much have to hope you hit him because once he starts to juke you better make sure your ankles are taped tight.
"He's like Juice [Williams] with his vision, but like Eddie [McGee] with his speed. He's swift. He can read the defense too. The other quarterbacks give us good looks too. We're prepared to face any quarterback. That Missouri quarterback [Blaine Gabbert] is nothing compared to Scheelhasse with his feet."
Foster is still learning defensive tackle. He may find a lack of size will hinder him at times, but his quickness will be hard to block. Illini coach Ron Zook has high hopes for Foster down the line.
"We're very pleased and happy with the way Glenn Foster has progressed. Glenn has a little different motor in there which is hard sometimes for offensive guys to block. Sometimes he's going the right way, sometimes he's not. He's had an awfully good spring."