For some Illini-heads, there are only two seasons: basketball and basketball recruiting. But with Illinois spring football practice beginning Tuesday, it's back to the gridiron, where the Illini posted only three winning seasons in the past 15 years.
For some Illini-heads, there are only two seasons: basketball and basketball recruiting.
But with Illinois spring football practice beginning Tuesday, it's back to the gridiron, where the Illini posted only three winning seasons in the past 15 years. Illinois coach Ron Zook survived the offseason overhaul, but he's likely gone if Illinois doesn't win six games or more this fall. With four assistant coaches fired, another one moving on and another coach demoted, Illinois did everything but change at the top after finishing with a 3-9 record overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten.
Here are FAQs about the Illini football team.
-- Who's in charge?
Zook probably retained his job because he agreed to give up control of the offense and defense. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said his system is more complex than the one run last season by Mike Schultz. On defense, the Illini could show multiple fronts under coordinator Vic Koenning, who takes over a unit ranked last in the Big Ten in total yards and points allowed.
Apparently, Zook's job is to let the coordinators make decisions, serve as the face of the program and lead recruiting efforts. And win.
-- Who will start at quarterback?
Sophomore quarterback Jacob Charest has the experience, starting one game and playing in four last season. Redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase is the most hyped. Freshman Chandler Whitmer plans on making it a three-way battle. Eddie McGee spends more time at wide receiver. With talent at wide receiver and running back, Illinois might only need a quarterback to manage the offense.
-- How far can the defense come?
Much of that depends on the status of defensive tackle Josh Brent, linebacker Martez Wilson and the play at cornerback. Brent is attending Parkland College to gain academic eligibility in hopes of returning this summer or fall. Wilson will skip contact this spring after neck surgery last season. Cornerback Terry Hawthorne made immediate impact on defense, but he might be shared with the offense. Redshirt freshman Joelil Thrash could surprise at cornerback.
-- Will special teams actually be special?
After the Illini fired special teams coach Mike Woodford, the coaching staff will collaborate on special teams. Derek Dimke was 5-for-5 on field goals after earning the job in midseason because of a slump from starter Matt Eller. Punter Anthony Santella ranked seventh in the Big Ten in punting (net yards).
-- Can you watch practice?
Zook announced Monday that the weekday practices are open only during individual work. Team drills are closed. Zook and his staff want to keep their schemes a surprise. The spectator policy for weekend scrimmages hasn't been announced. The spring game is April 24 and open to the public.
BASKETBALL: Illinois coach Bruce Weber attended the morning session Saturday at the Indiana state tournament as two of the state's top players from a loaded sophomore class played for titles.
Forward DeJuan Marrero had 17 points and 11 rebounds to lead Gary Bowman Academy to a 74-52 victory over Barr-Reeve in the Class 1A title game for the state's smallest schools. Guard Kevin "Yogi'' Ferrell scored 20 points in Indianapolis Park Tudor's 41-38 loss to Wheeler in Class 2A.
The Illini will lift weights this week before returning to individual workouts next week. Coaches can work for two hours each week on the court with players. Illinois will hold its team banquet on April 13.
IN OTHER NEWS: Sophomore center fielder Willie Argo earned player of the week in the Big Ten baseball after leading Illinois to a 3-0 record on a Florida swing. Argo batted .636 during the week. Illinois (8-8) plays at Illinois State on Tuesday. The gametime has been moved to 4:30 p.m., and the Illini host Chicago State on Wednesday. Illinois faces visiting Penn State in the Big Ten opener Friday through Sunday. … The Illinois men's golf team, ranked No. 12, won the Florida Atlantic Championship by 18 strokes behind junior Chris DeForest, who won the individual title. The field included seven Big Ten teams. … In softball, No. 18 Illinois (23-4, 0-1 in the Big Ten) lost the conference opener at No. 2 Michigan 7-1 before the second game was rained out. Illinois hosts Indiana State on Wednesday before playing at Northwestern on Saturday and Sunday.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.