Zook undecided on kicker; Hardeman expected to play

As sophomore kicker Matt Eller found out last week against Purdue, special teams players are not immune to being benched.

After Eller missed a 23-yard field goal as time expired in the first half of the 24-14 loss, Eller was replaced by sophomore kicker Derek Dimke in the second half.

“He’s in a little bit of a slump,” Illinois head coach Ron Zook said. “He’ll get himself out of it. All kickers go through it. He’s hitting the ball well, but instead of home runs, he’s hitting foul balls.”

Dimke scored his first point of his career on an extra point in the third quarter.

“Matt and I help each other out,” Dimke said.

“We’re competing for the same spots, but what’s important is that the team gets the points. Whichever way we get them, we have to make the kicks.”

Zook declined to name a starting kicker for Saturday’s game during the week.

Hardeman likely to play, Fayson’s status remains questionable

After getting carted off the field at Indiana on Oct. 17, senior safety Donsay Hardeman is expected to be on the field Saturday against Michigan, Zook said.

“He told me Sunday he was going to play,” Zook said on Monday. “That’s generally a good thing.”

Zook said Hardeman practiced with the team despite having the stomach flu.

“But he’s fine. He’s out there,” Zook said. “He practiced and went through everything.”

Senior Garrett Edwards and freshman Walt Aikens started at the safety spots against Purdue last week, and Zook said that a combination of the three will play on Saturday.

Edwards has missed time this season with a strained neck.

“Donsay will give you the fire and energy you like,” Zook said. “Having Garrett back was good. I think Walter is going to be a guy who just keeps getting better and better.”

Zook mentioned senior tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and junior wide receiver Jarred Fayson as players who may miss Saturday’s game due to injuries.

Hoomanawanui missed the final quarter of last week’s game at Purdue after reaggravating an ankle injury he sustained against Penn State on Oct. 3.

“He will probably be a day-to-day,” Zook said. “It’s the same thing, it’s his ankle. He had it last week, but he played three-fourths of the game and did pretty well.”

Fayson has missed the last two games with a sore knee.

Hawthorne still in secondary

Freshman Terry Hawthorne has continued to see time in the defensive backfield despite coming in as Rivals.com’s No. 6 wide receiver in the nation in the 2009 recruiting class.

The switch, Zook said, came as a result of both a lack of depth rein the defensive secondary and an offseason hand surgery that hampered Hawthorne’s ability to catch the ball.

“I can’t tell you how far you get behind when you miss camp,” Zook said. “It’s just an unbelievable amount of individual work and the actual installation and so forth, but he’s done a good job, he really has.”

With junior wide receiver Arrelious Benn being projected as a first-round draft pick in next spring’s NFL Draft, Hawthorne could become Illinois’ next No. 1 receiver.

“Obviously at the end of the year, maybe before spring ball, we’ll address that issue a little bit more,” Zook said. “When we moved him over there after the second scrimmage or on the last scrimmage, the offensive guys made me sign something saying that they would get him back.”

Zook pleased with O-line changes

Redshirt freshman Tyler Sands, who took over the starting left guard spot from junior Randall Hunt, will play despite having a hip flexor.

Sands was promoted from the backup center spot to the starting lineup as part of a number of changes Zook has made in order to jump start the offense.

Freshman Hugh Thornton replaced junior Ryan Palmer in the starting lineup at right tackle, and redshirt freshman Graham Pocic and sophomore Corey Lewis have seen increased playing time.

Zook said he has been pleased with the results of the changes.

“You see the whole energy level step up a little bit, you’ve seen everybody practice a little bit harder,” Zook said.

“It gives you some depth there if you get more than just five guys you can get a few plays out of. It keeps everybody fresher, and obviously they’re going to play better,” he added.

Sands’ debut at left guard against Purdue impressed senior center Eric BlockI, who moved to center this season after starting all 12 games at left guard last season.

“He had some problems playing out of position, but for the first time playing guard, it wasn’t too shabby,” Block said.

The offensive line has paved the way for a running game that has averaged 171.9 yards per game this season, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten.

“Obviously, when there are changes you have to get used to them,” Block said. “But these guys have been here awhile, so we’re used to what they’re all going to bring chemistry-wise.”