CHAMPAIGN — Tim Banks is trying to convince his Illini defense that there’s an important step they must take before learning how to win football games.
“You have to stop losing before you can start winning,” Illinois’ defensive coordinator said Tuesday, three days before the annual spring game.
In other words, before making big plays on its own, Banks is trying to get the defense to stop surrendering big plays to the opposition. That was a recurring problem last season when Illinois stumbled to a 2-10 record.
With the spring game on tap for 8 p.m., Friday at Memorial Stadium, Banks said he is seeing progress.
“We’re eliminating big plays,” Banks said. “We’re not going to bust an assignment. We’re not out of position. We’re forcing the opposition to make big plays.”
Penalties, missed tackles, blown coverages — Illinois was guilty of all three in last season’s letdown. So Banks and his defensive staff are trying to address the elimination of mental and physical errors.
“Am I confident and pleased with the direction we’re headed? I am,” said Banks, who survived an off-season coaching staff shakeup that claimed five members of head coach Tim Beckman’s staff.
“Are we a team that is a repeat offender with mistakes? So far we haven’t been, so from that standpoint I’m pleased.”
Beckman said Tuesday he will use a normal clock and play a “normal” game for the first three quarters of Friday night’s Orange & Blue intrasquad game. Then he’ll use a running clock in the fourth quarter. Most of the kicking plays will not be “live.”
Offenses will be limited to one trick play per half with no unbalanced formations and no option plays.
The defenses will be limited to one outside blitz, one inside blitz and will not be allowed to use safety or cornerback blitzes.
Beckman began dividing up the personnel in the football program, making sure each team has an allotment of trainers, video helpers and even academic advisors. Each team has its own chaplain and medical staff. He named new defensive line coach Greg Colby as head coach of one team and named new wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy as head coach of the other team.
The rosters were set in a team player draft conducted by seniors Tuesday afternoon. That ensured that first-teamers will be mixed with second-team and third-team players. Beckman likes that plan.
“I like that a No. 1 center might be playing next to a No. 2 guard,” Beckman said. “The experience of playing with different guys is very, very important, I’m excited about that.”
Beckman has also named three former players as honorary captains for each team.
For Colby’s team, the honorary captains are Tavon Wilson, an honorable mention all-Big Ten defensive back in 2010 and 2011. Wilson was a second-round draft pick of the New England Patriots. Joining him are Chuck Kogut, a three-year letterwinner at linebacker for the Illini from 1971-73, and John Wright Sr., a two-time All-American wide receiver in 1966-67.
For Bellamy’s team, the honorary captains are Craig Swoope, a second-team All-American in 1983 who led Illinois to the Rose Bowl; Bob Standring, who lettered at safety in 1973; and Tim Simpson, an All-American guard in 1991.
“These coaches will give the pre-game speeches,” Beckman said.
The game was originally scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., but was pushed back an hour by the Big Ten Network, which will televise the game. That allows former Illini players to participate in a golf outing on Saturday, one that will include a stop at Beckman’s home along the Stone Creek Golf Course.
“We’re excited to have former Illini players come back and get involved in our staff,” Beckman said. “This will allow us to spend more quality time with them.
“And it’s a great opportunity for us to be on TV. It’s something we wanted to give a try. I hope we’ll have a great turnout.”
Admission and parking is free in the lots surrounding Memorial Stadium and the Assembly Hall. Fans are asked to enter through gates 17, 19 and 21. Concession stands will be open.