Young offense seeks continuity

By Laura Hettiger

As Eric Wolford left Wednesday night’s football practice, he was thinking about two things: youth and experience. The run-game coordinator and offensive line coach has been preparing his young linemen for their first taste of a home crowd since mid-November.

With spring practices coming to an end, the offense – and offensive line especially – is ready to show positive strides during Saturday’s spring game at Memorial Stadium.


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“We’ll have two groups out there and, you know, we’re looking to develop some consistency in what we do up front, that’s the big thing we’re looking for,” Wolford said. “Play with fundamentals and technique, the things we talk about daily.”

Having lost starters Akim Millington and Martin O’Donnell to graduation, several changes have been made to the line in hopes of giving starting quarterback Juice Williams, the running backs and receivers the same protection as last year. Wolford hopes these changes will add to the continuity of the offense and give his players a chance to make more of a mark against opposing teams’ defensive units.

However, with Camp Rantoul and the regular season still four months away, nobody’s position is a certainty.

“Something could happen at any time, somebody could go down, somebody could get hurt, we’re ready for anything,” said offensive lineman Jon Asamoah. “Everyone is expected to know every position.”

Asamoah believes the line is “more athletic across the board,” but is still struggling to fill the voids left by Millington and O’Donnell.

Working in the trenches is a big part of the Illini running game, but the receivers are ready to show their progress.

Switching from the slot to outside receiver, Chris James has been working on his timing with Williams after sitting out last season following an ACL injury during camp.

Finding early success with his quarterback, he knows the line has had a lot to do with the number of completions this spring.

“They’re young guys putting the pieces back together,” James said.

One of the biggest adjustments during the spring season is the red jersey Williams and Eddie McGee don when practicing. The jersey protects the quarterbacks, deterring anyone from tackling them.

With the no-contact rule, the Orange and Blue Scrimmage may lack the intensity present at regular Illini football games.

As the team continues to collectively improve, it is undeniable that players and coaches are ready for the spring season to conclude.

Friday night will be the final practice before summer workouts and conditioning begin.

“They’re looking for spring to be over, just like everybody else,” said head coach Ron Zook at the end of Tuesday’s practice. “But they’ll come out here Friday and have a good learning practice, and continue to practice and continue to get better, and then Saturday they’ll come out and be ready to go.”