Former Petrino Player Praises Illini Offense

Fighting Illini fans are eager to see improvement in their football team this fall. Much hope is based on the installation of a new offense under coordinator Paul Petrino. While some skepticism is normal until fans see the product on the field this fall, talking with a former Petrino player who thrived in this offense provides a reason for optimism.

Richard Owens played tight end at Louisville and has continued his career in the NFL. He had modest beginnings.

"I had a few offers coming out of high school, but none of the big teams. And then coming out of college I was one of those bubble guys, but I was able to be successful in the League for a number of years.

"I played three years with the Minnesota Vikings and one year with the St. Louis Rams. Most recently I was with the New York Jets. I'm rehabbing right now."

Since the Illinois offense this fall will be similar to the Louisville offense when Owens was there, it is useful to find out what he thinks of it.

"Being in the system I was in in Louisville, I really feel it prepared me for the next level tremendously. Not just offensive systems or anything like that, but in being a player."

While the Louisville head coach was Bobby Petrino, his brother Paul played an important role. Owens has no doubt in his abilities.

"Paul Petrino is a great coach. He's been around the system for a long time and knows what he's doing. That's the thing with those guys that have been together before. They know what they're doing. He's very capable of doing his own thing. He'll do a great job this year."

Petrino's offense makes great use of the tight end, who also functions at times as a fullback or H-back.

"In my time at Louisville, we utilized the two tight end system, one being your H-back and one being your in-line blocker. Doing different move things and lining up in different positions to disguise things, hide things. Ultimately run the same play from different angles and variations."

The tight ends will play a much more important role in the pass offense this year.

"Utilizing the tight end I think is tremendous, especially at the college and professional levels. That's kind of your safety valve, your outlet. You'll see a lot more productivity out of the tight ends with the system that they run. I think the running back and tight end are both valuable as a pass outlet."

WIth any offense, success is dependent not only on the overall scheme but on the play-calling and proper utilization of personnel.

"It's all about the plays being called and the people running the plays. You get the right people in your scheme, and you can be successful.

"You take Paul. If you can get the recruits and put them in the positions they need, he will be successful with the offense. You probably have a lot of those guys there already. You put them in the right spots, and they should be tremendous."

One-time Illini assistant Greg Nord was Owens's tight end coach at Louisville. He has since moved on to a similar job at Kentucky but will be replaced by his protégé Chip Long. Quarterback coach Jeff Brohm also worked with Owens at Louisville. Owens says having several staff members experienced with the offense will help.

"They're a bunch of great guys. You have to have coaches who know the system and have been in the system and are all on the same page. So when they call plays, they know who the players are and they're all thinking the same way when there are adversities."

Owens is a self-made man, but he had help along the way from coaches now at Illinois. He has no doubt they will be successful.

"If it doesn't happen right away, it's gonna happen soon. It will be a big, prolific offense."

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