Jeff Allen Ready To Anchor Offensive Line

The Fighting Illini football team has talent at all positions. However, the dropoff from first team to second team is noticeable at some positions. Left tackle Jeff Allen is one of those special players for whom there is no backup with a similar pedigree. If he remains healthy and plays consistently, he can anchor the offensive line.

Jeff Allen came to Illinois from Chicago Martin Luther King High School overweight and lacking in conditioning. After struggling through his first winter conditioning and Camp Rantoul, he realized the value of getting into top shape.

"My freshman year, when I first came here I was about 335, and I played at 325 during the season. Now I'm about 307. I want to be in the 305-310 range.

"It's a whole different deal. I almost collapsed the first practice my first year. It was terrible for me. I'm in better shape, and I can get through it easier."

The offensive linemen did more summer work than ever before, and it is paying off.

"I feel great. We put in a lot of work in the summer without the coaches. I feel we made a lot of progress. It was the first time we did it since I've been here. So I think we're gonna be good this year."

The linemen are now considered strongside or weakside, and they may switch sides of the ball depending on the play call. It takes time to learn how to do things from opposite perspectives, so the linemen worked on that together this summer.

"Most of the time I stay left, but in certain offenses we want to create offense to the right. We made that adjustment in the spring, so it shouldn't be a problem now. It was a formation drill, so we did that in the summer."

Besides all the strength and conditioning work and informal position drills, the linemen worked on their bonding.

"We did a lot of different things. We did a lot of different cookouts, we barbequed together. We went bowling, went out to eat a couple times, we did yoga together."

Yoga has become a popular exercise for the football players and especially the linemen.

"Yeah, the yoga especially helps with our flexibility. As an offensive lineman, you have to have great knee bend. Yoga works on that a lot."

When Corey Lewis was lost to knee surgery, there was concern about the tackle opposite Allen. He believes that problem has been resolved.

"It's been looking great. Ryan Palmer's been stepping up. He's a fifth year senior, he knows what it takes."

Hugh Thornton played tackle as a freshman last year, and he took some reps there this fall. But he appears to be staying at guard for the most part.

"That's the best setup right now," Allen surmises.

Backing both tackles is a little-used but athletic redshirt junior.

"I see Craig Wilson backing me up right now. He's doing a tremendous job. He's been getting into the playbook, learning the plays. He's been putting in a lot of extra work. I'd better be careful, for he's a freak."

Hopefully, no other tackles will be needed since the only other ones on the team are freshmen Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic.

"It's just a couple freshmen. So I've got to do a good job to stay in shape and not get myself hurt. The freshmen have potential. Mike Heitz looks good. Simon (Cvijanovic) looks good as well."

Now that he is a two year starter, Allen realizes the need to assume a leadership role.

"I'm trying to be more vocal. At first I was just worried about showing it on the field. But now I've got to step up. We've got a lot of young guys, so I've got to talk them through it."

Allen looks forward to showcasing the new Illini offense on the field this fall.

"We're very excited. Paul Petrino the OC came in with a lot of fire. He's expecting a lot out of us. I think we're gonna step up."

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