The move of Martez Wilson from outside linebacker to the inside appears so far to have been a successful one.
April 25, 2009
The University of Illinois football team closed out the spring practice season Saturday with the annual Orange and Blue Spring Game, and the Blue team shut out Orange, 20-0. In front of a crowd of over 10,000 and in 25 mph winds, the Blue squad, led by quarterback Juice Williams and linebacker Martez Wilson, scored three touchdowns, while allowing just 100 yards from the Orange.
This season, Head Coach Ron Zook evenly divided the teams to create more competition amongst the players. The result was 150 yards of passing by Williams, compared to the Orange's 69 yards in the air. The Blue also won the battle on the ground with 48 yards to 33 by the Orange. Sophomore tailbacks Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford carried on their successful springs with 51 and 42 yards, respectively. Both running backs averaged over five yards per carry on the day, but it was Leshoure and Dufrene on the Blue team that found the endzone with a touchdown each.
The punting game was hampered by the heavy winds, sometimes gusts up to 40 mph, but gave the Blue squad great field position on its third drive setting up three-yard run by Leshoure. In that drive Williams completed two passes, a 15-yarder to Zack Becker and 23-yarder to A.J. Jenkins, before the TD run.
Two series later, the Blue put together its longest drive of the day with nine plays before Williams connected with Chris Duvalt for a 10-yard touchdown reception. Duvalt hauled in four of his five catches on the day during that drive.
The final score of the day came in the running clock-shortened second half. After getting the ball deep in Orange territory off a botched punt, freshman quarterback Jacob Charest led the Blue squad 17 yards for a touchdown. He completed two short passes to Jack Ramsey and Daniel Dufrene had three carries, including the four-yard score as time went off the clock to end the game.
Between both teams, the defense accounted for 16 tackles for loss for 79 yards, including five sacks. Freshman linebacker Evan Frierson forced an interception after a tipping a Williams pass to himself in the second half. Converted defensive tackle Rahkeem Smith had the other turnover of the day, falling on a fumble. The secondary led the Orange defense with Tavon Wilson, Supo Sanni and Nattiel Perkins accounting for 13 tackles. On the Blue squad, Jerry Brown and Martez Wilson put on the show with 14 stops, including six for loss by Brown.
Spring Team Awards
Bresee Award (Most Improved Offense): Eric Block, OL, and Cordale Scott, WR
Bresee Award (Most Improved Defense): Ian Thomas, LB
Bresee Award (Most Improved Walk-on): Zach Becker, FB, and Nattiel Perkins, DB
Best-Effort Award (Offense): Jon Asamoah, OL
Best-Effort Award (Defense): Tavon Wilson, DB
Faculty Award (leadership, community, classroom): Sirod Williams, DT
Chancellor's Award (highest GPA): Jon Asamoah, OL
Illinois Coach Ron Zook Quotes
First Impressions of Spring game...
"I am pleased and proud of the way the team played today. It's hard to split a team because we had to take out people offensively and defensively, which we normally don't do during practice."
"Overall, I am pleased and happy with our performance. With the last two weeks in particular we have continued to improve. Obviously, we are not there yet and we have a ways to improve. But, I love the attitude of this team. They are doing whatever we are asking them to do. It is just a different attitude then what we have had in the past. They are excited and will be ready to go next season."
On quarterback Juice Williams...
"I will be honest, I saw him throw a couple of balls that have been his worst of the spring. I am not sure if it was the wind or what. I don't think there is any question that he has a chance to be a pretty good football player for us next year. The thing that is great about him is that he is a very humble guy. He is a leader. The maturity that he has developed has really put him in a position of being a leader for this team."
On the running back situation...
"I feel really good about our running back situation. I feel in the last week Daniel Dufrene has really taken a step forward. He is really running hard. He is playing as well as he has since he's been here. I feel very good about Mikel (Leshoure), I feel very good about Jason (Ford) and I think Troy (Pollard) is almost back to 100%. He has great hands and if you get him out of the backfield he can make some things happen. I am very excited about our two young guys coming in. This is never a position where you worry about having too many guys. Not only do we have some quantity, but we have a lot of quality as well."
On linebacker Martez Wilson...
"I think Martez played pretty well. I think he likes being in the middle there, and making the calls. He has accepted that responsibility and he looked pretty good today."
"I feel that this is where he is going to end up. The mike linebacker, as we know it, is not the same as it was back in the day. He can run hard and make plays. You do not have to worry about match-ups and pass coverage.
On the team's attitude...
"I really have been excited about the leadership and attitude around the team. The attitude has been completely different since we got back in January. The way they worked during the off-season, at their 6 am workouts, and the way they worked in the weight room was impressive."
On players that have stepped it up as leaders...
"Rejus (Benn) and Jarred (Fayson) have stepped it up. They say what's on their mind. Those are the two biggest guys. They lead a little bit different because they are the more vocal guys on the team. I think when you have that kind of stuff its good. They are not afraid to call out their buddies and they are policing it themselves. It's a great thing."
Quoting WR Chris Duvalt:
on having scored multiple TDs in spring scrimmages this year
"It doesn't really matter who scores the touchdowns. I just happened to catch the ball at the right time. Juice and I have a connection. He really helpe me learn the offense last year when I came over from defense. We've been able to connect."
Quoting OL Eric Block:
on what should excite the fans about this year's Illinois team
"We have playmakers everywhere, at wide receiver, quarterback, obviously, running back, all over the place. We're going to have a great offensive line, too. With the explosion factor, we're going to be an exciting team to watch."
Quoting OL Jon Asamoah:
on the shift from spring ball to the summer
"In the spring, the coaches are harping on you all day, to help you get better. You go from that to the summer, where you're more doing your own thing with the strength coaches. Then when we get to Camp Rantoul, they're back in our faces. I'm so used to it now that I don't even think about it."