Hawthorne finding his groove after injury

Sophomore cornerback Terry Hawthorne is finally making it back to being the big play cornerback the Illini expected him to be before an injury sidelined him before the opening game against Missouri.

Hawthorne intercepted Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell early in the fourth quarter Saturday at the Illini’s Homecoming game, but head coach Ron Zook still wants more from the East St. Louis native.

“I don’t think he’s even close to where you want him to be because that was only his second game, really. So that was like a player playing only his second game,” Zook said. “Of course he’s been off for a while too. I feel like he’s getting better; he made a couple of nice plays.”

Hawthorne said he’s still getting back into the flow of the game, though he said his injury is not bothering him.

“Honestly I agree with (Zook). I’m getting back to the point where I was back in camp and spring ball,” he said.

“I’m getting closer and closer, day by day, week by week. I’m just putting a lot of work in, still doing treatment and rehab to be ready to get back into it all the way.”

Hawthorne was replaced by former running back Justin Green, who has drawn good reviews from coaches, early in the season.

The Illini defense, which totaled four interceptions Saturday, only looks to get stronger.

“When Terry gets healthy, that just gives you that much more depth back there,” Zook said. “It’ll keep them fresh … We’re going to need everybody.”

Brown makes up for penalties with interception

Zook wasn’t happy with linebacker Jonathan Brown after the freshman committed two illegal blocking penalties on kickoffs.

Then, the Memphis native went in on defense, intercepted Chappell and scored a touchdown on the play.

“He may have gotten a ‘get out of jail free card,’” Zook said.

Brown has received limited playing time on defense this season behind a veteran group of linebackers, but the interception may earn him more time as a backup.

“I’m content with my role right now as a backup,” Brown said. “Ian Thomas is a great guy. He teaches me a lot, so I’m really just observing what he does and building my game on it.”

Brown said Zook had some words for him after the penalties, but he may have his normal penalty of 25 up-downs reduced.

“In the locker room … he said, ‘I guess that touchdown makes up for both of your penalties,’” Brown said. “So that kind of made me happy a little bit.”

Scheelhaase’s injured hand ‘can’t be that bad’

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase hurt his hand after being tackled late in the first half, but Zook thinks the redshirt freshman will be fine after he played the second half with a sore hand.

“He hurt his hand in the first half, but I think he’ll be fine,” Zook said. “He played the whole second half, so it can’t be that bad. We just want to make sure he’s taken care of.”

Scheelhaase was made unavailable for comment after the game.