Illinois offensive line gets personal

By Daniel Johnson

One of the most fluid areas for the Illini this year has been the offensive line. After losing All-American Martin O’Donnell and Akim Millington, the Illini have had their share of struggles and shuffling on the line. Most recently, true freshman tackles Jeff Allen and Corey Lewis have both seen time on the line, along with senior Eric Block starting at left guard.

“It was rough early on, the injury to Ryan Palmer really hurt us,” Lewis said. “I think that that has set us back, just having to get new people in there, but I think we’re coming along. It’s a lot different than high school for someone like me, (offensive line coach Mike Wolford) has been teaching me a lot.”

Left tackle Xavier Fulton echoed his fellow lineman’s sentiments.

“For whatever reason it was tougher for us at the beginning of the season,” Fulton said.

“As time has gone on, we’ve gotten closer, especially outside of football.”

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Outside of football is usually a very important time to the line, and as it has done in years past, the group tries to eat and spend time with each other as much as players can away from the football facility. Last year, Millington would occasionally cook and had dreams of facing Food Network chef Bobby Flay.

“I throw it down,” Millington said last year.

“Wherever Bobby Flay is at, come and get me. I’ll make something happen.”

This year, food is playing another important role in the line’s bonding time, with the unit trying to take up all the area restaurants have to offer.

“We’ve been going out on Thursday night to different restaurants,” Fulton said. “We’ve gone to a lot different places, we went out to Philo Tavern for their fried chicken night last Thursday. We’re just having trouble picking places now, trying to choose where, we’ve been to too many places.”

Lewis said he’s been picking up things about the game just from the trips the line is taking.

“They broke me in pretty well,” Lewis said with a sneer. “But going out with them, being around them, they’re all good guys. They keep on me, but I’ve been able to learn from people, learn from (Fulton), learn from coach, it’s a really good situation for me.”

The players need more sustenance than most, so the trips are anything but thrifty. Fulton found out the hard way during one of the sessions.

“We went to Kamakura two weeks ago, it’s like sushi and that whole cook-in-front-of-you deal,” Fulton said. “Craig (Wilson) forgot his wallet, so I said I would pay for him, but he took that as, ‘Oh, I can get whatever I want,’ and when the bill comes, I ended up paying about 90 bucks.”

Lewis offered his profound insight to Fulton.

“It’s hard to feed 300-pounders,” the freshman said, laughing.

Zook weighs in on the Vernon Davis situation

In his first game as San Francisco 49ers head coach, Mike Singletary sent cornerback Vontae Davis’ older brother Vernon to the locker room after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The former Chicago Bears linebacker said he spoke with the team about being mature during the game, and that Vernon violated that with his actions, saying, “I will not tolerate players that think it’s about them when it’s about the team.”

Zook spoke at his press conference Tuesday about discussing the situation with Vontae.

“I talked to him a little bit this morning, but I don’t think that is going to have any effect on Vontae,” Zook said. “He sees it, hears it, knows it. I feel bad for Vernon. I heard Coach Singletary say early this morning in a headline, now that he’s probably calmed down, that maybe it wasn’t quite as bad as maybe it was made out to be in the beginning. I don’t know. In fact, I didn’t see what happened. But, in the article that I did see, Coach Singletary said that Vernon is not a troublemaker, Vernon is a good guy, and he is a competitive guy, and sometimes competitive guys do get a little overzealous.

“Trust me, I’d rather have a guy that is too competitive than the other way. It seemed to me like he was making a stand and showing that this is his team now, and Vernon just happened to be the first guy that something happened.”

Zook continued.

“It’s hard for me to comment ’cause I don’t know the situation. I know Vernon, I know Vontae, and I know that they are good people. They are both competitors and want to win, but there are so many things that get involved and I don’t know about all the details to even comment about it.”