Of all the coaches, it was new Illini coach Tim Beckman who was the most excited to be present at today’s Big Ten Football Media Day in Chicago. Clad in a fantastic orange tie, Beckman’s enthusiasm was contagious as he addressed the media and exclaimed how honored he is to be the head coach of the University of Illinois. He also went ahead and addressed the Penn State situation head on before anyone had a chance to ask.
Overall, the question of pinching players from Penn State was a hot topic, and Tim Beckman made sure that everyone knew that he had not in fact been on the Penn State campus recruiting. Oh, he was in Happy Valley and talked to a couple of players, but he was not on the campus.
On that topic, each coach had a different response. Some said they would in no way shape or form be looking into PSU players (Urban Meyer) while others seemed pretty open to the idea of grabbing some good players that are available (Beckman, Danny Hope). Those players that want to leave are going to go somewhere, so why not to your B1G school? The rules are the rules, so I don’t really see anything wrong with speaking to players who are interested in leaving.
Back to Beckman, he had a lot to say without actually really saying much, and he did it with a ton of energy. He’s excited about the 19 seniors, and having those 19 seniors return for one more year of football. Did I mention there are 19 of them?
In response to a question regarding last season’s epic fail of losing the last six games, Beckman said that he focuses on good old fashioned competition to get morale up and prepare the guys for the upcoming season.
“I think we had 15 outstanding days of Spring,” he said. “Going over competing and playing the first play as if we played the last play and playing at a tempo that we believe is going to be the Illini tempo and being a finisher by competing.”
Four Illini were drafted last year, but obviously that didn’t mean that last year’s team was any good. In addressing the question of how to translate a draft win into actual football wins, Beckman pointed out that four other guys checked on their draft stock, and decided to come back. Michael Buchanan, Graham Pocic, Terry Hawthorne and Akeem Spence all decided to return, though Beckman didn’t exactly say how that’s going to transform into wins.
While all positions are up for grabs, if the season started right now Nathan Scheelhaase will be the starting quarterback. However, this could change. “Quarterback-wise and defensive back-wise, it’s all going to be the same. We’re going to compete and make our determination on who is going to be that starter based on practice,” he said.
Beckman addressed the major concern for everyone: the offensive line. The plan is for a dual offense next year, with two running backs in the game at times, and also two quarterbacks when Miles Osei lines up as a running back. “It’s a commitment that our offensive staff has made to running the football and we’ve got to establish the run first for us to be successful,” he said. “So the challenge will be on the offensive line to provide for [Donovonn] Young and [Josh] Ferguson and hopefully some of the young freshmen to step in and play.”
On the topic of Northwestern, Beckman acknowledged that he is fueling the rivalry, and referred to them as the “Team Upstate.” Later, Pat Fitzgerald said he wasn’t paying attention to Beckman and the “Team in Champaign,” as he is focusing on his own team instead.
Even though Beckman addressed the PSU topic from the start, it still came up again. Rumors were swirling about Illini coaches swarming the Penn State campus this week, and that’s why the questions were flying. Beckman again admitted he was in Happy Valley, but not on campus. He doesn’t feel bad about reaching out, because he’s following the rules. There are players he’s got his eye on, and he informed Penn State as such before even arriving.
With only four teams in the Leaders division eligible to go the Championship game, Beckman certainly wants to get Illinois to that game, but he realizes there are going to be many obstacles along the way.
“We have a challenge, there’s no question about it, because of our away football games, playing in Camp Randall and playing at the Big House and playing in The Shoe, are three big places to play in this conference,” he said. “And being on the road for those three challenges are definitely going to be the challenges on the road. You’ve still got to win your Big Ten football games to give yourself that opportunity to get in that championship on 12-1-12 in Indianapolis.”
Beckman also mentioned that today is his mother Pat’s birthday, and I hope she has a lovely celebration with her son today.