Illinois football looking to fill backup quarterback spots


Illinois’ Wes Lunt (12) passes the ball during the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl against Louisiana Tech at Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas on Friday, Dec. 26, 2014. The Illini lost 35-18.

By Sean Neumann

Illinois football’s Chayce Crouch, a likely candidate for backup quarterback behind Wes Lunt, has another trick up his sleeve.

There’s no question Lunt will be the Illini’s starting quarterback in the fall, but with the departures of Reilly O’Toole (to graduation) and Aaron Bailey (who will transfer to Northern Iowa), the bench is already looking thin.

Head coach Tim Beckman said in a news conference Tuesday that Crouch is competing this spring to also become Illinois’ starting punter. Crouch will battle for the position with kickers David Reisner and Ryan Frain.

“You’d be amazed, he’s got a very, very strong leg,” Beckman said. “Of course, having a quarterback back there puts some things in mind for the defense that has to defend him.”

Beckman said freshmen quarterbacks Jimmy Fitzgerald and Jeff George Jr. will compete for the third-string quarterback position.

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But with Lunt’s laundry list of injuries in his past, and Crouch vying to play another position, the Illinois’ quarterback situation isn’t concrete. 

According to Beckman, “It’s not a concern.”


Coaching changes

On the defensive end, Beckman said the staff is looking to incorporate co-defensive coordinator Mike Phair’s previous experience into the defensive mix.

The former NFL coach spent the last 13 years between the Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“It’s no different from other places I’ve been,” Phair said. “The things you emphasize on defense is stopping the run and taking the ball away.”

Illinois’ defense struggled last season, posting the worst numbers in the Big Ten. The team allowed 456.4 yards — including 239.2 on the ground — and 34 points per game.

What does Phair’s involvement mean for co-defensive coordinator Tim Banks, who spent last year as the team’s sole coordinator? “We’ll see,” Beckman said.

Banks said his role with Phair around isn’t much different from last season.

The move allows Beckman to put more personal focus on other areas such as the special teams. Along with the defense, the Illini special teams struggled last season.

Alex Golesh will be assisting with special teams. Golesh also coaches running backs and tight ends, and serves as the team’s recruiting coordinator.

The Illini struggled to make field goals and extra points last season, switching between Reisner and Taylor Zalewski as the place kicker. 

The pair missed three point after attempts and were 7-for-13 (55.8 percent) on field goals throughout the season.

Despite the hills yet to climb for Illinois, there’s a sense of confidence rippling through the coaching staff.

“The fact that we got to a bowl game was a big deal,” Banks said. “People understand we’re on an upswing.”

Illinois begins spring practice Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The spring game is April 18.

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