While watching football practice last Friday, it struck me: this team is increasingly Tim Beckman’s. There’s always a transition period when a new coach takes over. New ways of doing things that require some getting used to. In Major League Baseball, it usually happens the first or second season; in college football, sometimes it’s four or five years.
The reason college football is the longest of any coaching transition is mostly scheme and roster make-up. I always point to Rich Rodriguez at Michigan. Michigan had spent 50 years recruiting big, lumbering, immovable offensive linemen. At the time Rich Rodriguez took over, they had perhaps the most old school NFL-like offensive line system (and linemen) in the country.
Immediately, RichRod wanted those linemen to get out in space and zone block. The match of scheme to personnel was atrocious (not to mention similar issues on defense), and RichRod lost his job. (Worth noting – his transition at Arizona has been much smoother in part, I think, because the roster he inherited matched the schemes he wanted to run.)
So we’re now beginning the third year of Beckman, and I think the transition is starting to take place. The clear transition, of course, is that Zook’s quarterback is gone and now Beckman will likely hand the ball to the top two recruits he’s brought to the program: Wes Lunt and Aaron Bailey. But it goes even deeper than that.
And that’s easy to see when you look at the roster. 83 scholarship players will enter camp this August: 31 were Zook recruits, 52 were Beckman recruits. The starters are still mostly Zook recruits – they’re the upperclassmen, so that’s normal – but the roster is really moving in the Beckman direction.
And I think that’s best seen when looking at the 2012 recruiting class. I wrote this up on the football board, but I wanted to expound on it here. Half of the players in the 2012 class were Zook recruits, and half were Beckman recruits that he added in his first six weeks on the job. And it’s rather eye opening to see that the majority of the Zook recruits are no longer with the team, while all of the Beckman recruits are not only still with the team, but the core of this 2014 Illini squad.
Here are those lists:
Zook recruits from 2012
Daniel Rhodes – no longer with the team
Jason Robertson – no longer with the team
TaJarvis Fuller – kicked off team by Beckman in September 2012
Vontrell Williams – kicked off team by Beckman in February 2014
Dami Ayoola – kicked off team by Beckman in February 2014
Beckman recruits from that same 2012 class
Mason Monheim – starter
Teko Powell – starter
TJ Neal – probable starter
Devin Church – in the rotation at WR/RB
Justin Hardee – starter
Mike Svetina – starter at star, moving back inside
V’Angelo Bentley – starter
I’ve been following Illini football and Illini recruiting for a long time, and I can’t remember a scenario like that. It’s 25 months since that class signed, and five of the eight Zook players are gone while seven of the 11 Beckman players will be on top of the depth chart as true juniors or redshirt sophomores (eight if you count Jevaris Little, who is likely our third safety this fall). 11 of the 11 Beckman players are still here and three of the eight Zook players still here? That’s what you call a telling statistic.
My takeaway from that: Tim Beckman arrived on December 9th and on December 19th he started building the kind of defense he wanted by landing Mason Monheim. In fact, the core of this 2014 defense – Monheim, Mike Svetina, and TJ Neal at linebacker, plus Teko Powell at defensive tackle and V’Angelo Bentley at cornerback – were all added that first month.
As we’ve discussed this offseason, it’s still probably one more year before that defense is set up the way he wants it, but this fall will provide a clear picture of what kind of team he wants to put on the field. And I should also note that this doesn’t mean guys like Joe Spencer, Robbie Bain, and Taylor Barton – Zook recruits in Beckman’s first class – are to be viewed as outsiders. Just like guys in the 2010 and 2011 classes, a new coach must embrace and find roles for the players he inherits.
I’m just saying that there’s a clear line here. From the moment he got here, Beckman started building his kind of roster, and this fall provides the first true glimpse of that.
Will it work? No clue. Might be a gigantic disaster. But if fans want to see the type of student athlete Tim Beckman wants to win with, just watch the development of those 11 players in the 2012 class.