Q&A with Illinois coaches Paul Petrino and Chip Long
His side of the ball routinely wins the live scrimmages at Camp Rantoul, so Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino feels more comfortable than defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. But is the offense ready for the season opener against Missouri on Sept. 5 in St. Louis? With the Illini defense struggling in preseason, the program may rely on the offense to score points to keep Illinois in games. That's a lot of pressure for an offense led by a rookie quarterback. Here’s what Petrino had to say about the team:
Is the offense laying a good foundation for success?
Petrino: "Our kids are starting to understand how to play the game. If they can have great intensity and toughness, they give themselves a chance to win. We've been improving everyday.
"I definitely feel confident. Guys are showing up, and we see weapons on the field. Guys are playing with that right attitude and playing tough, making plays. If that happens, it makes you confident.''
Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is known as a workaholic in preparation. How is he doing on the practice field?
Petrino: "He's really improved in the last few days. He took really huge steps forward, probably made the most progress since he's been here. You saw things clicking. He's going through reading progressions faster, getting the ball out of his hands faster and reading coverages better. He's been sharp in knowing where to go with the ball.''
Most offensive coordinators like to coach quarterbacks. Why coach receivers?
Petrino: "It happened when my brother (Bobby) first got the head coaching job at Louisville. He asked if I wanted to coach quarterbacks or receivers. I thought I could get my personality through more at receiver. I can fly around with passion on the practice field and get the whole offense that may more. With quarterbacks, you have to be more calm, stand back there and talk to them.
"At the time, Bobby was coaching the quarterbacks anyway. If (quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm) wasn't here, maybe I would have coached the quarterbacks.''
Speedy freshman receivers Darius Millines and Ryan Lankford made an impression early. Athletic freshman tight end Evan Wilson (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) is a big target. Will he be a contributor this fall?
Tight ends coach Chip Long: "The thing about Evan is he's so mentally tougher than a normal freshman. He does what he's supposed to do when he's tired and keeps pushing through. That's what most impresses me other than his athletic ability.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he sees the field quite a bit. If he keeps making plays, we're going to keep feeding it to him.''
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.