Pocic bringing versatility to Illini offensive line

Graham Pocic is listed as the starting center for the Illinois football team, but come Saturday, that may not be the case.

The offensive line’s veteran leader has played all over the field since head coach Tim Beckman took over the program this spring.

“From the start of camp to now, he’s played from left tackle all the way across to right tackle,” quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. “Graham helps our offensive line out so much, not just from an experience standpoint, but from being able to play every single position.”

The 6-foot-7, 310-pound lineman started all 13 games at center in both his sophomore and junior seasons, and he was named to this year’s watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which is given to the nation’s top center.

Pocic said he is comfortable at every position on the line and has even bounced around at different positions within single practices during the offseason.

“The coaches are doing a great job preparing me for it and I’m ready for whatever happens in the game,” Pocic said.

Beckman said depth is a major concern for the offensive line, adding that having a player like Pocic, who can play multiple positions, can help cover up those concerns.

As the depth chart stands, Hugh Thornton will line up at left tackle, Alex Hill at left guard, Pocic at center, Ted Karras at right guard and Michael Heitz at left tackle. Jake Feldmeyer filled in at center when Pocic shifted to other positions during the summer.

“We’ve got to make sure that we as coaches can adapt and we as coaches can make sure that our ‘A’ players get in the game on Saturday,” Beckman said.

*Tight end Davis expanding role*

The Illini lost last season’s leading pass catcher, A.J. Jenkins, to the NFL and the coaching staff will be looking elsewhere to replace Jenkins’ 90 receptions, 1,276 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

But some of Jenkins’ production could be made up from outside the receiving unit.

The tight end group of Jon Davis, Eddie Viliunas, Evan Wilson and Matt LaCosse figure to be a central piece of the Illinois offense. Davis, a sophomore, is listed as the top tight end on the depth chart.

“I get to do a lot of different things on offense to show my versatility,” Davis said. “The coaches are trying to put me in position to make plays and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Davis caught 22 passes for 187 yards and one score last season and hopes to build on those numbers in Illinois’ new up-tempo spread offense.

“Hopefully the defense can start respecting me and seeing where I’m at all times,” he said.

*Missing time*

Senior defensive end Justin Staples will miss Saturday’s season opener while serving his one-game suspension.

Staples was arrested on Feb. 9 for a DUI in Champaign and served a two-week suspension in winter workouts following the incident.

Junior Tim Kynard will start against Western Michigan in Staples’ place. Kynard appeared in 11 games as a sophomore, recording eight tackles, three for a loss, and one sack.

Beckman also said Monday that offensive lineman Simon Cvjanovic will miss Saturday’s game, but declined to elaborate.

“He just won’t be playing in this football game,” Beckman said.

_

The reporter can be reached at [email protected]

@cthornburg10_