Ryan Palmer Proving Valuable At Tackle

The position on the Fighting Illini football team with the least depth is offensive tackle. Corey Lewis is out for the year after undergoing knee surgery, leaving only two lettermen for the two positions. Senior Ryan Palmer needs to step up for the Illini offense to go. Fortunately, he is working harder than ever and making his presence felt.

Ryan Palmer is one of the few fifth year seniors on the Illinois football team. The 6'-7" Ohioan says his memories are all running together.

"It flew by. It seems like yesterday we had spring ball. Summer was great and went really fast. Now we're out here getting ready for season to start."

With Hugh Thornton moving back to his more familiar guard spot, Palmer and Jeff Allen are the only experienced tackles on the team. Palmer is aware of the awesome responsibility being placed on his shoulders.

"A lot of guys are counting on me this year, and I have to take that to fruition. I just want to come out here every day and work my butt off. I was disappointed last year with my performance. That's why I trained hard in the off season. For this team, I've got to be good this year."

Fortunately, the young giant is beginning to live up to his potential. It's his last chance to shine, so he is trying to make the most of his opportunity.

"Things are going great. It's my last year. I come out here every day like it's my last day. We have good expectations this year."

The long-armed Palmer has struggled gaining strength over his five year career. Little by little, he is catching up with his stronger teammates.

"It's going good. Lou worked with me for three months this summer. I put up numbers I never put up in my life. I'm a lot stronger this year."

And he finally has his weight where it is needed in the rugged Big 10 conference.

"I weigh 300 right now. I'd like to get to 305, but it's tough gaining weight right now. You're burning so much out here. That's why I've got to get a lot of protein in my body."

Senior Craig Wilson backs up Allen, and Thornton gets reps at tackle behind Palmer in case he is needed there. But the only other depth is supplied by two untested freshmen. Palmer thinks they have potential, but it is hoped they won't be needed this year.

"We're not that good at depth right now. We lost Corey (Lewis). Right now, we've got some young guys coming in. We need some guys to step up because we have no depth right now.

"I've been here five years, and I've seen some freshmen. Simon (Cvijanovic) and Mike (Heitz) have great potential, especially Mike. He impressed me in the summer, making all his runs. He's a pretty strong kid for a freshman, and he moves well. We have some promise for the future with these tackles."

Palmer is excited about the potential of the Illinois offense.

"I've played football all my life, and I've never been around a guy like Coach Petrino. Every day he gets us pumped up for practice. He's gonna make a huge difference this year. He's gonna make us right."

The new system requires the guards and tackles to switch sides on occasion. It takes time to learn but offers a wider variety of ways of attacking defenses.

"The offensive system is fast, there's a lot of plays. It's a pro-style offense, a lot of teams do it in the NFL. You've got to be both on the left and right side, so I've got to get in the playbook every day."

Palmer's forte is agility. The new offense fits him because it requires mobile linemen.

"I think it is good for me. I'm strong in that I think. I played basketball in high school, so that kind of helped with my quickness. I've always had trouble in the weight room. That's always been my weakness. But now I've been training right and getting my mind right, so that's changing."


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