Last year was about inexperience. This year won't be.
That's the Cliff Notes version of the Illini heading into the 2014 campaign. Of course, it doesn't apply everywhere. Notably, a four-year starter at quarterback is gone. But at the units that don't get as much attention — offensive line, defensive line, secondary — the inexperience that was a frequent talking point a season ago is one no longer. Now, experience reigns in Champaign.
And that's terrific news for Tim Beckman.
"I've never been around this situation before, and it's good to see that guys have changed body-type wise. And I know I've mentioned that a lot, but it's just you haven't had to see this at other places that I've been. It's great to see those guys, plus they know how we practice, what's expected and they know the scheme," Beckman said after the team's first practice on Monday. "So it is reassuring as a coach that when you go out there you're not reinventing everything and trying to teach someone who just came from high school."
The defense was particularly affected by lack of experience last season, and it showed. The Illini D was one of the country's worst. It ranked 104th in scoring defense, allowing 35.4 points per game, and 110th in total defense, allowing 481.5 yards per game.
You can somewhat chalk it up to some inexperience in the secondary, where the Illini were forced to use a bunch of true freshmen at cornerback.
But another year means everyone's a year older, be that starters or backups. It builds experience for the starters. It builds depth everywhere else.
"There's no question about that," Beckman said of improved depth. "Instead of having five or six offensive linemen, you've really got eight guys that have a chance. And are those guys, backups, all freshmen? No. We've got some guys that have been here. Same way on the defensive line. We've been able to take some junior-college players and kind of plug them in, which has created some depth. Secondary, you've got depth because they all had to play last year, four true freshmen at corner. Now those guys are sophomores."
So that inexperience excuse from last season? It won't be valid in 2014. And hopefully it won't even be necessary.