Illini offense lending hand to thin secondary

With each passing day, it seems the Illinois football team is becoming more and more familiar with the saying “when it rains, it pours.”

Just days after it was announced that junior Supo Sanni, who was slated to start at safety, will miss the 2010 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, the Illini were dealt another blow when it was announced that sophomore cornerback Terry Hawthorne will be out three to six weeks with a stress fracture in his right foot.

“It just gets worse and worse, as far as injuries are concerned,” junior safety Trulon Henry said. “We gotta be able to deal with adversity and come out and still compete … You always prefer your starters and returning players, but we just gotta keep moving. We can’t cry about it; there’s nothing we can do to change what happened.”

The injuries were a big blow to a unit that was already thin, and forced the Illini to get creative in filling the holes. Sophomores running back Justin Green and wide receiver Jack Ramsey were both moved to the other side of the ball this week, where they are expected to start at cornerback, while redshirt freshman receiver Steve Hull will also likely see time at safety.

“We had some losses … and I played defense in high school, so I talked to (head coach Ron Zook) and I said I’d be glad to help the team,” Ramsey said. “We need somebody to step up … so that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Despite having to learn on the fly, Henry said both Green and Ramsey have impressed so far.

“Jack is kind of familiar with the cornerback position, so it’s not that bad. Just getting used to our terminology is basically all he needs to do. And athletically, he’s doing good,” Henry said. “One on one, he’s a natural — (Justin) Green as well. It’s just getting them used to the schemes and the terminology.”

Ramsey seemed confident in his ability to learn quickly, though.

“I’m trying to learn as quick as I can. It’s coming along easy to me,” Ramsey said. “I’m coming along fine, it’s just a learning process … The biggest thing is I gotta learn how to tackle, and I’ll be alright.”

Zook acknowledged that the pressure will also be on the coaching staff to “keep it simple,” as the slew of new players could limit the playcalling abilities of defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.

“We’ve still got a lot of coaching to do, and we’ve still got a lot of learning to do, especially in the secondary,” Koenning said.

“Obviously when you lose three guys in just the period of a few days — three starter-type guys — and you move some new guys into those roles, you just can’t do everything that you ordinarily would want to do. You’re going to have to be somewhat vanilla (in your playcalling.)”