Illini Football: 2016 NFL Draft Return a Future Springboard?

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In 2016 Lovie Smith takes over an Illini football program that recently had a really good reputation as a NFL vocational development school. Then Mike Thomas came along; and hired Tim Beckman. For two years the NFL Draft then became an Illini football free zone. Illinois excelled in winning draft night up until 2014, as the program was then shut out in 2015 and 2016.

The Illini were among the best, if not the best in the Big Ten when it came to being a NFL Draft factory, which we covered in more detail here.

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Hardy Nickerson Big Get for Illini Football; Still Holes to Fill

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Hardy Nickerson gives the Illinois football program a tremendous upgrade over Tim Banks at the Defensive Coordinator position. You always hear about what a huge upgrade Lovie Smith is over Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit, and rightfully so. However you don’t hear all that much about Hardy Nickerson.

That’s because football media don’t write, talk about and feature their show around defensive coordinators very often.

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Illini Football Coach Lovie Smith Praised by NFL Network Pundits

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As Illinois Fighting Illini Football Coach Lovie Smith sells the program to recruits, his NFL pedigree will be a persistent theme. (We covered this in depth for RedEye on Thursday) Smith has been out of the college game for 21 years, but he takes over a program that had a really good reputation as a NFL vocational development school up until the last couple of years. Illini football excelled in winning draft night up until 2014, as the program was then shut out in 2015 and 2016.

 Fortunately for Lovie Smith, Illini football returned again to having a presence in the Draft this past weekend.

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Oakland Raiders 2016 NFL Draft: Mixed Bag, Mixed Opinions

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It’s hard to concisely summarize the fifth draft of Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, because it was such a mixed bag. Their first round pick, Safety Karl Joseph of West Virginia was definitely a big reach, right?

Or was it?

Not really when you find a guy who fills a need to solidify the pass defense. We knew coming in that Oakland was going to prioritize DB, and that’s exactly what they did. Likewise with the two Big Ten Defensive Ends, Jihad Ward of Illinois and Shilique Calhoun of Michigan State.

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Oakland Raiders Drafting Jihad Ward Gets Mixed Reaction

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When Oakland Raiders made Jihad Ward their second round pick, 44th overall, tonight it drew some mixed reaction. Ward was projected to be a second-rounder by most draftniks, and the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock has consistently been talking about Jihad Ward as a second round talent since February. 

First off it’s pronounced juh-HODD, not jee-hahd as it’s spelled. Although it’s spelled the same, it’s not pronounced the same as a holy war being fought by ISIS. Twitter went nuts with this angle anyway.

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Jihad Ward to End Illini Football NFL Draft Drought

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Every Big Ten team had at least one player selected in the 2015 NFL Draft except for Illinois. In 2014, Illini football were also shut out of pro football’s selection party. In other words, the NFL Draft became yet another Illini free zone under the Mike Thomas regime like New Year’s Day Bowls, the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend, the NBA Draft, the McDonald’s All-American Game etc.

Well, scratch at least one of those big events of the list because DL Jihad Ward is set to end the drought. He’ll do it with authority too as he’s projected to be a potential second or third round pick.

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Illini Football: What Will Garrick McGee’s Offense Look Like?

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In answering a recruiting question posed to him after a recent spring practice, Illini football Coach Lovie Smith said:

“When you’ve done it at the highest level, you should have an eye for talent. I wanted our staff to have a strong NFL flavor to it, but with a good mix from college, too, and I think we have that.”

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Illini QB Wes Lunt is a Ticket Salesman; Aspiring Athletic Director

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They say offense, most specifically passing offense, is what sells tickets. It’s not just a cliche.

Look at how the NFL has completely rewritten its rule book in order to facilitate new and bigger milestones in the passing record department. Conventional wisdom holds that Illinois Fighting Illini QB Wes Lunt will be a big part of getting people in the Memorial Stadium seats this fall.

Newly minted Head Coach Lovie Smith will attract them, but winning games, and doing it with panache, is what will make sure they stay for four quarters and also later return to Zuppke Field.

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Lovie Smith: Illini Football Spring Practice Halftime Report

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Lovie Smith has brought a level of excitement and interest to the Illini football program that we haven’t seen in many years. The Illinois football community believes and hopes that he can bring a level of consistent winning which hasn’t been achieved in Champaign since the John Mackovic era.

Lovie’s first spring practice period is now about halfway through, so let’s assess where things are at the stroke of halftime.

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Tim Beckman, Illini Football Settle Out of Court

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Tuesday brought another eventful and dramatic day at the University of Illinois. You’ll recall that former coach Tim Beckman was fired by ex Illini Athletic Director Mike Thomas eight days before the 2015 college football season began. Beckman responded with a statement that was very defiant and combative, as the former football leader sought a severance package that he believed he was due.

Today, Tim Beckman settled out of court with the University of Illinois.

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Hardy Nickerson: Overlooked Illini Football Upgrade

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Going from Tim Beckman/Bill Cubit to Lovie Smith is like being upgraded from steerage to first class. You already know that, and everyone has already been saying that for a month already. It’s the plain truth.

Of course, Hardy Nickerson is a tremendous upgrade over Tim Banks as well. You don’t hear that as much, because people don’t write, talk about and feature their show around defensive coordinators. In 2013, Banks led a defense that by many statistical measures was the worst in Illini football history. Yet he still returned in 2014, and they started to show some improvement in the back half of the season.

They were still far productive though.

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Lovie Smith Expects Former Bears Players to Visit in Champaign

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When May arrives, football season temporarily goes back down the sports pecking order until late July when football talking season starts up again with authority. In the meantime, we have quasi-news items, or pseudo news items like this one below regarding Lovie Smith and Brian Urlacher.

Don’t you love April’s sort-of kind-of football season? Between the NFL Draft and spring college football practice, the sport returns to the top of our mental que for about a month after being pushed aside since early February.

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