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It is pretty tough to get on a coaching hot seat after year one, but Tim Beckman gave it about as good an attempt as anyone. Why did year one under Beckman go so horribly awry, do you have hope for his coaching prospects, or is this a slow march to a year three fire?
I'm not sure anything went right in Beckman's first season, honestly. When he was hired he had hoped to bring Matt Campbell with him from Toledo but Campbell instead replaced Beckman at Toledo, and from there I feel as if Beckman was scrambling to put his staff together and that same scrambling never stopped on the team. At the same time, though, I don't think you can pin all the blame on Beckman.
Ron Zook had a reputation as a good recruiter, and the NFL Draft seems to have proved that a bit, but the fact of the matter is that Zook's last few recruiting classes were not special. This was a team without depth and once injuries started there weren't enough able bodies left to replace starters.
If there's reason for hope it's that Beckman's first recruiting class was pretty good considering what was taking place on the field. However, he simply doesn't have a track record of success long enough to convince me that he's going to be able to put things together here. I hope he does, but he's going to have to convince me and most of the fan base or the Illini will be looking for a new coach soon enough.
Illinois posted a pretty putrid offensive performance in 2012, finishing last or next to last in the conference in the four major offensive categories. What is Beckman's offensive philosophy and how much improvement do you see coming in year two?
Not sure Beckman really has an offensive philosophy. His background before becoming head coach at Toledo was as a defensive coordinator, and Matt Campbell was the brain behind Toledo's offense. The good news is that this year the Illini have hired an offensive coordinator in Bill Cubit who proved during his time at Western Michigan that he can mold quarterbacks and put together solid offenses.
You will notice a difference in the offense this season compared to last. It may not be in the production -- the offensive line remains a large concern -- but it will be as far as philosophy. Cubit will employ an offense that is pass-first, which is something we haven't seen around here in quite some time.
The Illini defense has been known for its star power over the last few years, producing a number of highly regarded playmakers. That wasn't the case last year despite getting Michael Buchanan back, and Illinois was overall a poor defensive squad. What do you look for from the defense in 2013?
I think the defensive numbers last season were a bit misleading. The Illini offense routinely put the defense in bad spots, whether via the turnover or just never being able to stay on the field. Which led to a lot of tired defenders. Injuries played their role on defense as well, as losing Jonathan Brown hurt.
The good news is I believe life will improve on the defensive side of the ball in 2013. The defensive line has some questions, but the linebackers will be very strong if Brown can stay healthy, and the secondary looked better than I expected this spring. Particularly safety Taylor Barton who could be a name Big Ten fans become familiar with this season.
What is the deal with Nathan Scheelhaase? Is this finally the year he puts together a full season, or is this going to be a fitting cap on his up-and-down career?
I swear there's just something about Illinois quarterbacks that makes them look so damn promising during their freshman and sophomore seasons only to see them regress at the end. In Nate's defense, though, he was in a new offense last year and got hurt early in the season. He then came back before he was completely healthy and was stuck behind a line that could not block for him.
I truly feel the new scheme on offense will suit him better as the Illini will run shorter routes and therefore the line won't have to block nearly as long. With Cubit's coaching, the new scheme, health and hopefully improved play from the line, I think Nate will have a solid senior season.
What was the most notable thing to come out of spring practice?
Honestly just how much better the offense looked. Not really from a performance perspective because we should never take anything in a spring game too seriously, but just from the fact it looked like an offense. One that will be capable of moving the ball down the field and finding the end zone. What a welcome change that would be!
What are your early impressions for 2013? Can Illinois make a bowl game?
I really do not see this team making a bowl game. I really do think it will be a better team, but the schedule does us no favors. The Illini get Cincinnati, Washington and a Miami (Ohio) team that won't be a pushover. Combine that with our conference schedule, and it's hard to see six wins. Particularly when the Illini have lost 14 straight Big Ten games. So, frankly, getting to six wins and going to a bowl game this year would be our equivalent of a national championship.