Beckman starting to focus more on future

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Beckman starting to focus more on future

CHAMPAIGN Illinois head coach Tim Beckmans weekly press conferences are always focused on the future the immediate future. On Monday, however, the discussion turned to more distant concerns.

After Illinois (2-8, 0-6) latest disappointing game, a 17-3 loss at home to Minnesota, both the coach and the press were eager to talk about recruitment and beyond.

One hot topic on Monday was true freshman Mason Monheim, who earned his second Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor after an outstanding, 15 tackle, performance against the Golden Gophers. Monheim, along with fellow true freshman Mike Svetina, started at linebacker for Illinois and encouraged the coach with his play and maturity.

Anytime an 18 year old and steps in to play Big Ten football as well as he does, I think, it surprises us all, Beckman said. Im proud of this freshman class. We have a lot of Masons, a lot of guys who step up and dont act like 18-year-oldswhen recruiting we look for guys who want to be great, we look for guys who are willing to do everything to be the best in everything they do.

In recent days Beckman and his staff have turned their attention finding more players like Monheim. Because of quirks on the Illini roster, including players who have already graduated but retained eligibility, Illinois has as many as 13 positions available in the current freshman class for players to assume in January.

So far the team has identified seven players, mostly high school students, who will fill those spots. For the final eight positions the coaching staff will look through the remaining talent pool and also try to recruit some players from the junior college ranks.

We are very active right now trying to find the best players, junior college or high school, Beckman said. Its huge to get those players in here early.

Though his attention was often turned toward future, perhaps more fruitful, concerns, Beckman did spend a good deal of time talking about Illinois final home game of the season against Purdue (4-6, 1-5).

The Boilermakers come to Champaign this Saturday on the heels of their first conference win, a 27-24 victory over Iowa, clinched with a last second field goal. Beckman said Purdues athleticism was crucial last week and felt their picking up a conference win on the road would be a boost for the struggling team.

This is going to be another challenge for us, he said.

One challenge for Illinois in particular, will be containing Kawann Short, who picked up Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors after notching four tackles for loss against Iowa. The challenge is not a new one for the Illini, though.

Before the season quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase names Short as one of the best defensive players in the league. He said Short forces change in the game plan because of how good a player he is. Scheelhaase did not think Short of the Purdue defensive line presented a challenge the Illini could not overcome, however.

Since Ive played against them their defensive line has always been a strength. Theyre a big blitzing team, so we have to not only prevent them from making big plays when they do blitz, but make big plays ourselves, Scheelhaase said.

To make big plays, however, the offensive line for Illinois will have to improve. Beckman made it clear no linemans job was safe, and changes to the line could be forthcoming.

Weve been working on different things and trying to get better. If it means some personnell changes, thats what it means, the coach said.

Last week the Illini failed to convert a few short yardage plays, most notably from second and goal on the one-yard line. Center Graham Pocic acknowledged his units shortcoming and said the line was working on improvement.

Short yardage, goal line situations, those are key situations in the game. As an O-lineman you pride yourself on those situations and obviously we didnt do a good job on that, he said. As a group we have to win the match-ups, one-on-one.

Illinois will kick-off their final home game of the season at 2:42 p.m. on Saturday. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

Illini Notebook

-The status of junior linebacker Jonathon Brown (shoulder) is still uncertain for Saturday. Beckman said the Butkus Award semifinalist was out of the sling he was seen wearing on the sideline against Minnesota, but had not been cleared by the doctors yet.

-When asked to assess Scheelhaases contributions so far this season, Beckman said the quarterback has been good as a player and excellent as a leader. When you accounted for injuries that have limited him to just six fully healthy weeks, he continued, and the fact that this his first season in a new system, Beckman was very pleased with Scheelhaase.

-Illinois is last in the Big Ten in several offensive categories, including rushing offense, total offense and sacks allowed per game.

-Saturdays game will be the final home contest for 21 Illini seniors.

With Ben Zobrist sidelined by sore wrist, Cubs move Ian Happ to second base

With Ben Zobrist sidelined by sore wrist, Cubs move Ian Happ to second base

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs drafted and developed Ian Happ with the idea of turning him into a Ben Zobrist-type player who would move quickly through the farm system and surface as a versatile big-league contributor and/or legitimate trade chip.

With Zobrist sidelined because of a sore left wrist, the Cubs got their first look at Happ playing second base in The Show during Saturday’s 5-0 loss at Dodger Stadium. That kind of depth – plugging in a 2015 first-round pick while a World Series MVP rests – should ultimately propel the Cubs over the course of a 162-game season.

Even as the Cubs stutter-step through a 25-23 start, there are enough choices for the best defensive second baseman on the team and a National League Championship Series co-MVP (Javier Baez) to sit on the bench.

“We know that the talent’s there,” Zobrist said. “It’s not like having any one or two guys out of the lineup is a big drop-off for us because of the talent that’s there. And we know that just because we have a lot of young players doesn’t mean that they’re not extremely capable of doing the job as well.”

Zobrist – who’s reached base in 23 straight games and emerged as a new leadoff option with Kyle Schwarber struggling – felt something on an awkward swing in the first inning of Friday’s 4-0 loss to the Dodgers. Zobrist played through it that night and called it a “day-to-day thing” that didn’t require an MRI.

[MORE: Is Joe Maddon turning Kyle Schwarber into a platoon player?

Facing Clayton Kershaw on Sunday after back-to-back shutouts will be a game-time decision.

“It’s tough,” Zobrist said. “We just haven’t strung together enough quality at-bats to score runs the last two games. It’s not just because of us. They’ve pitched well. Their pitchers are pretty hot right now. They’ve spotted up. They’ve gotten early strikes where they needed to and then gone to work pretty well on us.

“The task doesn’t get any easier tomorrow with Kershaw. We just got to keep trying to chip away.”

Morning Update: White Sox officially announce signing of Luis Robert, split doubleheader

Morning Update: White Sox officially announce signing of Luis Robert, split doubleheader

Here are the top Chicago sports stories from Saturday: 

Preview: Cubs look to avoid getting swept by Dodgers today on CSN

Preview: Knights look to bounce back tonight on CSN

White Sox courting of Luis Robert leads to 'Christmas in May'

Cubs blanked again by Dodgers

Tyler Danish gets win in first big league start as White Sox beat Tigers in first game of doubleheader

After getting shut down by Buck Farmer, White Sox ninth-inning rally falls short

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

Blackhawks sign defenseman Michal Kempny to extension

Luis Robert will start journey through White Sox organization in Dominican Summer League

With Ben Zobrist sidelined by sore wrist, Cubs move Ian Happ to second base