Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois to Put Spotlight on Special Teams

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois to Put Spotlight on Special Teams

Article excerpt

David James was actually looking forward to Friday's start of spring football. Even the agony afterward.

"I'll probably ache after the first practice," the sophomore linebacker from East St. Louis said a day beforehand. "But I'm a lot excited.

"That first contact lets you know football is back. Besides, I don't want to go into fall football out of shape."

James will have to wait for that contact until today when the team will put on pads for the first time. On Friday, they went through non-contact drills.

There will be a 15-practice schedule in the next three weeks for the players as they sweep away cobwebs accumulated since their Liberty Bowl win over East Carolina in December. It will conclude with a spring game at 4 p.m. April 15.

"Spring goals we have talked about as a team are unity, the emphasis on special teams, field position," coach Lou Tepper said. "We will put in an unusual amount of time on special teams, but that has been our mode of operation in the spring since I've taken over.

"Offensively and defensively, I think the keys are in the trenches for us. The offensive line is an area where we need to put the most work in. We're probably a little better off at the skill spots than we have been before."

Twelve of the team's 24 starters are back. Here's a look at the Illini:

Offensive line: The Illini lost three starters from last year's team: left guard Derek Allen, right guard Jonathan Kerr and right tackle Mark Suarez. Junior center Chris Koerwitz (6 feet 2 and 296 pounds) and senior left tackle Ken Blackman (6-6, 297) return. So the line may be the greatest rebuilding challenge. The contenders for those positions are senior right guard Charles Edwards, left guard Brent Taylor (Sikeston, Mo.) and right tackle Chris Brown.

Quarterback: Quarterback Johnny Johnson, a senior-to-be, passed for 2,495 yards last season, completing 59 percent of his passes and throwing for 19 touchdowns. His passing efficiency rating was 137.6, the second best ever at Illinois.

Tight end: Ken Dilger, the team's most valuable player on offense last season, exhausted his eligibility. So Dilger's backup from a year ago, Matt Cushing, will take his place on the depth chart. …

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