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With Kramer likely out, Allegretti slides into the center

Illinois+running+back+Mike+Epstein+searches+for+a+hole+during+the+game+against+Ball+State+on+Saturday%2C+September+2%2C+at+Memorial+Stadium.
Illinois running back Mike Epstein searches for a hole during the game against Ball State on Saturday, September 2, at Memorial Stadium.

Illinois running back Mike Epstein searches for a hole during the game against Ball State on Saturday, September 2, at Memorial Stadium.

Quentin Shaw

Quentin Shaw

Illinois running back Mike Epstein searches for a hole during the game against Ball State on Saturday, September 2, at Memorial Stadium.


The Illini offensive line was already struggling against Ball State on Saturday in the second quarter when starting center Doug Kramer went down with a knee injury.

The injury forced Kramer out of the game, and in his absence, head coach Lovie Smith turned to guard Nick Allegretti to take over snapping duties. Even though it’s a very different position, it’s one that the junior captain was comfortable slotting into.

“As an inside player, you have to know all three inside positions anyways, so it wasn’t a huge mental change,” Allegretti said. “Obviously it’s a different position, you make a lot more calls, but I’ve played center a lot in my career so it wasn’t too bad of a transition.”

In fact, Allegretti started the opening game of last season at center for the Illini. While Kramer hasn’t been ruled out for Saturday night’s matchup with Western Kentucky, Allegretti has been practicing at center all week and said that he expects to start there again against the Hilltoppers.

While Smith will be glad that he can simply slide Allegretti down the line and fill the hole, he emphasized at his press conference on Monday that Allegretti is not a center.

“Nick finished up the game last week, and he can play inside,” Smith said. “We have options, we have three guys that can snap the ball. Especially for a guy like Nick, it’s tough being a guard who can snap versus actually being the snapper.”

For Allegretti, the shift from guard to center not only means that he will have to help call plays, make adjustments and snap the ball, but it will also affect the way the defensive linemen will attack him. Instead of having to block a mix of inside and outside rushers, he will almost exclusively match up against opposing defensive tackles, who will be slower and more powerful. Instead of trying to get around him, they will be trying to overpower the 6’4”, 305 lb. Allegretti.

While he thinks that his experience having to deal with smaller, faster rushers will help him against the big guys, Allegretti also pointed out that center isn’t his listed position for a reason.

“I truly am a guard,” Allegretti said. “I think my best position is guard. But I’ve played on center a long time, so I can go back on the inside, and I think the guard experience will help me.”

The shift over to the middle will be an adjustment for Allegretti, but having him at center instead of Kramer will be an adjustment for the rest of the offensive line as well.

“Nick and Doug are two different people,” tackle Gabe Megginson said. “They say different things, they call different things. But we’ve talked so much on the offensive line that we know it’s just a little adjustment.”

The unit has already dealt with changes throughout the preseason because of injuries and now will have to start a different group week one and week two. The linemen know that this won’t be a one-time thing — they will have to be prepared to deal with adversity whenever it rears its head.

“It’s something that’s going to happen all season, we’re gonna play different offensive lines,” Allegretti said. “It’s week two and we’re already playing a different offensive line, and week three, four, five, we could be playing different ones. Everyone just has to know every position, and communicate well. If we can have that good communication, we’ll be alright no matter where everyone is.”

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