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.
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.Follow paulmbanks
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.Follow paulmbanks
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.Follow paulmbanks
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.”Follow paulmbanks
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.Follow paulmbanks
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.Follow paulmbanks
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.Follow paulmbanks
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.Follow paulmbanks
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.Follow paulmbanks
Major Illini football spring practice news broke over the weekend and unfortunately, it was of the most unpleasant variety. In just his second practice back, after recovering from a torn right ACL, wide receiver Mike Dudek tore the ligament again. It’s the same exact injury that kept him out of the entire 2015 season. He’s now lost for the 2016 season too.
You’ll recall that he was probably the best overall player on the 2014 Zaxby’s Bowl team. Dudek had a breakout freshman season, and Illini football fans maintain optimism that his future is still bright.Follow paulmbanks
As Lovie Smith takes the reins at Illinois, there’s been some questions regarding how efficient a recruiter he’ll be. Most of the doubts center around the fact that he’s been out of the college game since 1995. As you know already, recruiting kids to play college football is a totally different animal than coaching ’em up as professionals.
Critics think he might be out of touch, at least at first, in this department.Follow paulmbanks