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Offensive line will grow with players

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Offensive line will grow with players

Illinois offensive lineman Larry Boyd protects quarterback Chayce Crouch during a 24-21 in against Ball State at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 2. Boyd has seen significant playing time despite being a freshman.

Illinois offensive lineman Larry Boyd protects quarterback Chayce Crouch during a 24-21 in against Ball State at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 2. Boyd has seen significant playing time despite being a freshman.

Photo Courtesy of Illini Athletics

Illinois offensive lineman Larry Boyd protects quarterback Chayce Crouch during a 24-21 in against Ball State at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 2. Boyd has seen significant playing time despite being a freshman.

Photo Courtesy of Illini Athletics

Photo Courtesy of Illini Athletics

Illinois offensive lineman Larry Boyd protects quarterback Chayce Crouch during a 24-21 in against Ball State at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 2. Boyd has seen significant playing time despite being a freshman.

By Mike Gasick, Staff Writer

Much of the recent talk around the Illinois football team has been about the two-quarterback system of Jeff George Jr. and Cam Thomas.

However, the development of a freshman-heavy offensive line has been important to head coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee.

The two shared that there have been some growing pains this season with the group, but that is to be expected when starting three true freshmen on the line.

Injuries have also factored into the coaching staff’s decision to give the freshmen these starting looks.

“When your center goes down late in the week like Doug (Kramer) and Christian DiLauro playing guard, you have a little different rotation in mind. “It’s tough when you don’t have the great depth that we have right now, so we’ll need them to play better this week.”

Penalties have hurt the Illini in recent weeks.

True freshman Vederian Lowe was flagged for a couple ineligible-man-down-the-field against Minnesota. Lowe also had a few holding penalties in last week’s loss to Purdue.

Lowe said he understands that he and the team need to cut down on the penalties, but he said his confidence is still high.

“Penalties come and go as you play football,” Lowe said. “You have to play your game and not let them throw you off your game because you know if you start thinking about bad things like that, then you will stop being effective.”

Larry Boyd and Alex Palczewski are the other two true freshmen on the offensive line.

Palczewski said he is adjusting well to what offensive line coach Luke Butkus has been wanting from the group. He admitted that he tried doing a bit too much when he first got on the field this season but has since settled down.

“I’m feeling more comfortable with the system,” Palczewski said. “Early on, I always wanted to be really aggressive and I’d be the guy getting beat whenever I ducked my head. They want us to be aggressive, but we have to contain it.”

Running back Kendrick Foster has taken note of the offensive line’s growth over the season.

He said he only sees the group getting better as it gets older.

“They’re growing up and learning the playbook very well,” Foster said. “They came a long way. They’re doing a good job and have improved a lot this season, and I’ve seen their maturity just being out there with them.”

The three freshmen are part of one of the most inexperienced teams in the country.

The Illini haves started 16 total true freshmen this season, which is the most in college football. Illinois has started three freshmen on the offensive line only five times in program history — all coming this year.

The freshman linemen said they will continue working on their techniques that have helped them solidify starting roles.

Palczewski said once the offensive front stops committing penalties, it can turn into something special.

“That’s the one thing we have to eliminate,” Palczewski said. “One thing that will kill a drive when we hit first and 20. But I’m confident we can fix that up and turn it around.”

@mike_mgasick

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