Zook, players back on gridiron

By Daniel Johnson

For Brit Miller, spring football will be a game of trial and error.

The senior linebacker had his second “game” situation in Saturday’s scrimmage, after moving from outside to inside linebacker. Miller will be attempting to help replace the void that was created by J Leman’s departure.

“It’s going pretty good, I get yelled at a lot more now,” Miller said. “Coach Zook is on me more now; learning the position is kind of going back to the old. But not having J in there doing the things that he does, it’s a little different, but we’re getting better every practice. Spring ball is proving to be very critical for us.”

In their second scrimmage of the year, the Illini passing offense and defensive unit continued to show progress and shine.

Juice Williams completed 17 of 31 pass attempts for 222 yards and three touchdowns. Jeff Cumberland was Williams’ leading target, with five catches for 96 yards, two of them for scores.

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“He’s still coming along, but Juice is really improving, it’s clear,” Zook said last week.

Defensively, Illinois was led by its linebacking corps and secondary. Safety Nate Bussey had nine tackles, Miller had eight and the defense combined for 10 total sacks.

Although there are still four months to go before Illinois travels to St. Louis to face Missouri, the Illini are already looking to build upon last year’s unlikely run to the Rose Bowl.

“We haven’t had two good seasons in a row,” Miller said. “We had a decent season last year and got to go to the Rose Bowl, but finishing with a loss isn’t what you want to do. Losing to Iowa is not what you want to do when you can win, and should have won. A lot of guys are priming themselves to go out for the Big Ten Championship.”

A Big Ten championship may be a bit bold to predict at this point, but such lasting improvement in conference play may be possible. Adjustments will abound this season for Illinois, be it in the stigma of the program or in the players themselves.

“Sometimes I freelance more than I should, that’s what I’m trying to get out of my game right now,” Miller said in comparing himself to Leman. “He’s a player who is going to do it right every single time.”

Miller admits he may not have the same mental edge that Leman does, but he knows his own abilities can shine, as well.

“With play-making ability, I used to kid with J, ‘I’m going to need you to get out of my way, buddy, because every time I’m running to the ball, you’re in my way.’ I always had to run around him.”