Illini keep the line moving

John Supinie

There is no left tackle on the Illinois football depth chart. No left guard, right guard or right tackle either.

The Illini offense lists weak-side and strong-side linemen, because offensive coordinator Paul Petrino will shift his linemen from one side of center to the other to create better matchups in certain formations and blocking schemes.

“The biggest thing we can do is get mismatches in the running game,” Petrino said. “If you flip the line, you can get your best guy against their worst guy and attack them. If you’re always right and left, you might go the whole game and never get our best guy on their worst guy.”

Petrino learned the system from his father, Bob, who coached NAIA Carroll College in Helena, Mont. Back then, Paul Petrino said, that’s how everybody coached it out West.

According to Petrino, only a handful of coaches still employ the scheme. Petrino’s brother, Bobby, uses it at Arkansas, along with Dennis Erickson at Arizona State and Mike Price at UTEP. Paul Petrino used the system every year in his career except for one season with the Atlanta Falcons. Left tackles are paid more than right tackles in the NFL, so the Falcons went with the left and right sides.

With Illinois deep at running back and inexperienced at quarterback, a solid running game would take pressure off redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. Thus, the Illini need strong line play. Flipping lines is just another variable with Petrino, the aggressive coordinator in his first season with the Illini.

The passing game also benefits from flipping the line, Petrino said, because players only need to learn half of the pass protections. The tight end flips with the strong side.

“If you flip lines, it’s a lot less teaching in (pass) protections,” Petrino said. “They only have to learn half the protections. If you don’t flip lines, they have to learn every protection, both on the tight end side and the weak side.”

The weak side is normally one-on-one blocking with double teams on the strong side.

“We have a better chance to take advantage of our linemen’s abilities,” offensive line coach Joe Gilbert said.

Weak-side tackle Jeff Allen is rated as Illinois’ best.

“It was kind of tougher in practice in the spring,’’ said Allen. “Then in the summer, we did a lot of player-only drills. We got the footwork down. Sometimes I have problems with it. Most of the time, I’m all right.’’

SAFETY: Juniors Trulon Henry and Supo Sanni are “pretty close’’ to settled at starting safeties, but defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will continue to push them. Sanni played well in the preseason a year ago, then fell down the depth chart during the regular season. Backup safety Travon Bellamy also has a reputation for slipping out of the starting lineup when the season starts.

“Just like in NASCAR, you lead 499 miles of a 500-mile race, and you get passed in that last mile,’’ Koenning said. “It doesn’t help. I have to keep putting them in the fire.’’

Henry, a junior-college transfer and Arrelious Benn’s older brother, “worked his tail off learning what to do in the summer,’’ Koenning said.

NOTE: Junior linebacker Ian Thomas missed the Wednesday night session with a strained arch in his foot. ... The Illini moved the Thursday practice to a night session to avoid the heat of the day. The Illini will practice from 6 to 8:30 at Camp Rantoul.

John Supinie can be reached at 217-377-1977.