Spring Mailbag I

Apr 23, 2019

I really should do more mailbags than just "after training camp" and "after spring ball". But I say that every year, and then I only do mailbags after spring ball and training camp. Maybe someday I'll stop saying things and start doing them. Well, maybe next year. Right to the questions.

(By the way, I realize that not everyone is on Twitter, so if you have a mailbag question, you can email me at robert@illiniboard.com)

If you could choose one former Illini QB to be on this team (in Smith's offense) who would you choose?

-- Riker Beta (@RenkesTom) April 24, 2019

Great question. I've really put a lot of thought to this. I have a knee-jerk reaction and I have the well-thought-out reaction.

Knee jerk is Aaron Bailey. As you know, I was the World's Biggest Aaron Bailey Fan and, therefore, the Most Bitter Dude In Champaign When Bill Cubit Wouldn't Even Give Bailey A Shot. That one interview where Cubit scoffed at the question of playing Bailey, saying (paraphrasing) "look he can't complete a pass in practice and my quarterbacks throw the ball, not run the ball" remains this anger point for me.

So I'd love to see an athlete like Aaron Bailey under center in this offense. But, given that Bailey transferred down a level (he had a great junior year at Northern Iowa leading them to the FCS Semifinals and then a so-so injury-plagued senior year), I should probably pick a different QB.

And it's obviously one of two quarterbacks. It's either Juice Williams or Nathan Scheelhaase. Rod's offense requires you to run, so I can't pick Jeff George or Kurt Kittner or Tony Eason. I need a running quarterback, so it's either going to be Juice or Nate.

And I think I'm going with Nate here? Rod's offense is a little less power and a little more finesse, so I think I'd want a quarterback who is a little more finesse than power. Juice had the better arm, but Nate was more accurate, and Rod's offense requires accuracy on some of these short passes.

So give me Nate. And then I'd go win eight games this fall.

Are you able to get a feel for the collective mental state of the team? The players must all realize that "4 wins is not good enough" (as emphasized by Lovie himself). Is there an energy of 'something to prove'? Any different from years past or is that standard for Spring ball?

-- Russ Johnson (@rjohns52) April 24, 2019

This was part of my panic after the spring game. There just didn't seem to be any urgency to the game. Maybe there was and I missed it, but as the second half wore on with the score stuck where it was, I didn't see much urgency. I'm in the stands freaking out with "uh, guys, if this isn't any better in eight months, everyone is losing their jobs" but I didn't sense the same on the field. I know that's a silly thing to say, but I really didn't sense it. Rod Smith was clearly not happy in the postgame press gathering, but that's about all I saw. I just wanted to see some panic, really.

I'll put it this way. Remember all of my comments during Lovie's first spring/summer about how "calm" everything was? About how after a year of total and complete turmoil (Beckman, Cubit), everything was quiet and extremely calm? How the hyperactivity of a Zook or Beckman practice had been smoothed out to match Lovie's calm demeanor?

Well, it's still the same, and now I find myself longing for hyperactivity. I don't want a Ron Zook our there running around with his whistle screaming "on the hop gentlemen, on the hop", but I would like to see some desperation. I need to know that I'm not alone in my "we have to win this season - we simply have to".

So yes, I watched five practices hoping to see the "something to prove" energy you mentioned. And I just didn't see it.

Which freshmen will play and which ones will redshirt?

-- Nick Kucera (@Nick_Kucera) April 24, 2019

I'll answer your question this way. Here are the 14 incoming freshmen ranked in order of "will almost certainly play" and "will almost certainly redshirt".

Marquez Beason
Isaiah Williams
Shammond Cooper
Kyron Cumby
Griffin Moore
Tarique Barnes
Casey Washington
Joseph Thompson
Moses Okpala
Keith Randolph
Seth Coleman
Nick Fedanzo
Evan Kirts
Josh Plohr

Is it impressive or scary that I did that from memory? Scary. Nobody should use the good parts of their brain to store this information.

Now that we have the list, we should draw the redshirt line. I think The Big Three will all play - Beason, Williams, and Cooper. Beyond that, honestly it's really hard to say. Remember, "redshirting" now includes playing in four games, so I could see a guy like Tarique Barnes playing in four games but not getting in a fifth game and redshirting. Jakari Norwood played in three games last fall and took a redshirt. I could see the same for Kyron Cumby.

You probably want a number, so I'll say five. What's that? You want names? Fine. Marquez Beason, Isaiah Williams, Shammond Cooper, Kyron Cumby, and Griffin Moore will be the five freshmen who play in more than four games. Why Moore? Because if Luke Ford doesn't get a waiver, he almost has to play due to tight end depth. And if Ford does get the waiver, well, I still think Moore might play. We just have to build some tight end depth.

More mailbagging tomorrow. And again on Friday. Probably.


wesd2005 on April 24 @ 12:09 PM CDT

My initial thought for the first question was Nate also, but then I thought what about Bush? Since he already knows the offense and the outlook for the receivers is somewhat bleak anyway (reducing the impact of having a better passer) it may be the best option for this hypothetical.

Nate was so good in 2013 though - I still think he's the right answer.

bigmcq16 on April 24 @ 12:43 PM CDT

I'm going to go off the board and take Eddie McGee for his speed.

deadguy on April 25 @ 09:57 AM CDT

You nailed it with the pick of Nate as the starting QB. He's really underappreciated by the fan base because he had 4 different OCs while he was here. Through it all he remained efficient and reliable. By the end of his career he was forced to be a pocket passer almost exclusively and he performed VERY well. This staff seems to value guys who protect the ball and make good decisions so Nate is the obvious choice here.

Interesting that Moore is so high up on your list of guys who could play next year and I'm guessing you put together that list before Ford's waiver was denied.

I could see Barnes being used as a Special Teams guy and having his red shirt burned that way. That's pretty much how Hollins and Tolson had their red shirts burned. He shouldn't be getting that much playing time at LB. If he is then that probably says more about the guys we have coming back at LB.

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