Illini football catches its breath, coaches hit recruiting trail

Corey Lewis is looking forward to Saturday. When asked what his plans are, the 6-foot-6 offensive tackle said, “Just sit there and watch all of the games.”

A bye week means the Illinois football players not only get to catch their breath, but they also get to be fans for a week.

“It gives me a chance to sit on my couch and be lazy on a Saturday,” Lewis said with a grin. “I look forward to that and I can’t wait.”

Lewis said head coach Tim Beckman and his staff encouraged the players to make a trip home, if possible. Defensive tackle Austin Teitsma plans on making the trip home to Glen Ellyn, Ill. He plans on going to his high school’s football game on Friday.

When asked what his Saturday plans were, Teitsma said: “Probably hang out with mom.”

Wednesday was the first time the Illini were in pads since losing to Washington at Soldier Field on Saturday. And while the players were enjoying a much-needed respite, the coaching staff was pedal-to-the-medal on the recruiting trail.

Beckman said coaches were traveling across the country, visiting recruits Monday and Tuesday, with a focus on Chicago and St. Louis.

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks said it was nice to get back on the road for a little while.

“Yeah they don’t let me out of my cage much,” he joked.

But on a serious note, Banks said he thought there was a little bit of a different feel about the Illinois program after the 2-1 start to the season.

“I think people are pleased with the direction (of the program),” Banks said. “Obviously we came up short against Washington, but I think they can see that our kids are playing hard — that it’s a different attitude, a different concept.”

Even Beckman agreed that there is a different feel around the program than there was a year ago. But he said it’s been the players who have made the difference.

“It’s great being around them,” Beckman said. “They were eager (Wednesday) to come back to the practice field.”

In his time at Illinois, Beckman has always broken down the season into quarters and evaluated his team’s performance. Beckman was fairly pleased with the first quarterly report of 2013.

He said the offense met almost all of its goals. Special teams was solid for the most part. But defensively the Illini were not as successful. The 34 points they surrendered to Washington couldn’t have helped the defense’s report card much.

Banks said the focus for his defense has been the fundamentals. The Illini struggled to make tackles in open space against the Huskies and that has been talked about all week.

Beckman said the best way to remedy that is simply to tackle. He said there’s no worry about getting injured in practice. His defense needs to improve tackling, so it’s going to tackle.

But the Illini won’t have to worry about tackling in the limelight for at least another week. For now they can put their feet up and just enjoy a day off.

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and @sean_hammond.