Training Camp 2017 XVI: Mailbag III
I just realized I'm putting two Roman numerals in the title for thise. POST XVII, MAILBAG IX, QUESTION VXI. Maybe I should mix it up with actual numbers. Or letters. Or maybe I should stop talking about such silly things and get to the next set of mailbag questions. Back to Twitter questions:
10000 words on special teams please 😉
-- Michael Robinson (@mlrobnsn) August 11, 2017
Silly @mlrobnsn, you'll just have to wait for the super terrific mega amazing Illiniboard 2017 Football preview (due out August 24th!) to read that many words on special teams. But for now, I can maybe give you 400 words...
Punting was the biggest concern coming into camp but Aussie Blake Hayes has put my fears at ease. That's probably premature - he's still learning the game of American football - but he has a big leg and can really boom it. I thiink he'll hold down the job for four years. And he's a lefty, so I absolutely cannot wait for my HIS LEFT STROKE JUST WENT VIRAL tweet after his first booming punt. Ah, man, I spoiled it again.
Kicking was my smallest concern coming into camp but now I'm concerned a bit. Put simply, I've seen Chase McLaughlin miss a lot of kicks. Like, a lot. Now, that's like watching a batter go through a 3 for 17 slump but if you look at the whole season (the hundreds of field goals McLaughlin has kicked this summer), he's above the league average. I'm sure he'll be fine. But the misses have been enough for me to look over at redshirt freshman James McCourt and wonder if he might come out of nowhere to win the job.
Longsnapper is a battle between Sean Mills and Ethan Tabel. Perhaps one of them handles the shorts (field goals, extra points) and the other handles longs (punts)? Some college teams go with two long snappers for the two different snaps, so maybe that's what we'll do. That's what we did with Michael Martin and Zach Hirth in parts of 2014 and 2015.
Holder? No idea. Probalby one of the punters. If football is too new to Blake Hayes, maybe walkon punter Bryce Barringer will be the holder?
Returner is the biggest question mark. My guess: freshman Carmoni Green. But it really could be anyone from Mike Epstein to Malik Turner.
Coverage teams have been an issue for years, but I'm hopeful of a better performance. There's depth at linebacker which is always the position the fills the most coverage guys on special teams. I think we can improve there.
Coin toss? Lots of work to do.
biggest weakness to be on this year's team? pass defense (i.e., CBs and S)? also known as zero love from the turnover fairy w.r.t. INTs?
-- Luke Wiley (@LukeWiley02) August 11, 2017
Biggest weakness? I wouldn't say pass defense. In fact, it's hard to pick a "biggest weakness". Across the board, the issue is youth and inexperience. Across the board.
Will we struggle in pass defense? Of course. The top three safeties go sophomore sophomore freshman and in the nickel we will either be senior sophomore sophomore at corner or senior sophomore freshman. So yeah, that will be a struggle.
Run defense? The front seven will have one senior and mostly be made up of sophomores and freshmen. They just don't have enough experience to suggest that this will be anything more than a learning/growing year.
Rushing offense? There's our friend youth and experience again. Might we start three freshmen on the offensive line? You can't expect much from a running game if you have three freshmen on the offensive line,
Passing offense? There's where we have some upperclassmen (junior Crouch throwing to junior Dudek and senior Turner). But the tight ends are all underclassmen and the line blocking for them will be young young young so it might be a struggle for a while.
See what I mean? How can you predict anything with all this youth? Start with what you think this team will look like next season (when it's pretty much the exact same team). Now subtract from there to see what you think this team looks like before it grows up and gets to that point. That answers almost every question.
As for the Turnover Fairy, I have it on good authority that she loves us now and will gift us with double digit interceptions the next eleven seasons. We're due.
Hoping to go to a game this year for the first time. What things do I need to do or see before and after the game?
-- Brett Tebbe (@btebbs17) August 11, 2017
Just stay around the stadium. On football Saturdays, I don't really go anywhere. Honestly, I want the stadium within sight at all times.
So I would suggest this. Bring a pop-up tent (the awning kind, not a tent to sleep in) and set up in the Grange Grove. Yes, it takes a bit to walk all of your stuff in, but it's totally worth it. You're right next to the stadium, the sun is shining, the drinks are flowing, the brats are grilling, it's great.
Take some time to walk through the tailgates across 1st Street from the stadium. That's where all the really great tailgates are set up. Busses painted orange, RV's, massive tents - I make it a point to walk through that area before nearly every home game (even if I'm just walking from my car to the press box). I need to soak in the atmosphere even if I'm not participating in the atmosphere. Seriously, go walk around over there. It's, like, inspirational to me. Those are my people.
Before you go in the stadium, get a photo with the Red Grange statue on the west side of the stadium. Every Illini fan should have a photo with Red. The best college player in the history of the game PLAYED AT ILLINOIS. We must scream it from the mountaintops until the next best player in college football plays at Illinois.
After the game, I suggest more of the same. Yes, if you want to go get some food you can go to Papa Dels (within walking distance of the stadium now at Stadium and Neil). Or, my personal favorite, go get a Diner Stack at Merry Anne's (corner of Neil and Kirby). But really, just stay close to the stadium and tailgate until they kick you out. The Grange Grove is an awesome thing.
Go Illini. Beat Ball State.