Gilmore sees potential with Illini D-line

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

On their way to winning a Big East championship last fall, Cincinnati's defensive linemen came up with a motto, which lingers with their former coach.

"Get sacks, get stacks," Keith Gilmore recalls. "Guys thought that third down was the money down, and we prided ourselves on rushing the quarterback in those situations. And I'll carry a lot of that over."

After coaching a line that led the Big East and ranked ninth nationally in sacks (40), Gilmore took the same position at Illinois, which is looking for better results after a 5-7 season. Fighting Illini head coach Ron Zook dismissed D-line coach Tom Sims and brought in Gilmore, who helped Cincinnati produce a top-20 rush defense last fall.

Zook also had a catchphrase with the defensive line in 2008. Before the season he openly labeled the line the strength of the team, and with good reason.

Despite having several NFL prospects in Will Davis and Derek Walker, Illinois finished ninth in the Big Ten in both rush defense (152.9 ypg) and scoring defense (26.6 ppg). Illinois too often lost the battle at the line of scrimmage, and Zook brought in Gilmore to change things.

"We really didn't talk about what happened last year," Gilmore said. "He expects me to coach these guys hard and be demanding and confront negative performances and demand that they play well. I'm all for that, so it wasn't a big deal."

Gilmore takes over a group that he admits is young but boasts a few veterans, namely end Doug Pilcher and tackle Sirod Williams, both fifth-year seniors. Another key contributor, tackle Josh Brent, is indefinitely suspended after a DUI arrest in February.

Pilcher, who recorded 2.5 sacks last fall, has helped Gilmore organize young players during spring practice and even eased Gilmore's transition to a defensive system run by co-coordinators Dan Disch and Curt Mallory.

"If I've got a question on a few techniques or things they've done in the past, he's the guy that I'll bounce those type of things off of," Gilmore said. "He's real mature about it."

Williams returned to the field this spring after tearing his ACL in preseason camp. He's participating in all drills so far but might be limited in contact later this spring.

Also back is sophomore tackle Corey Liuget, who saw significant action as a freshman following Williams' injury and recorded 26 tackles, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.

"In the first day of [spring] practice, he used his hands really well and ran to the football," Gilmore said. "He's a guy who's been coached. All I've got to do is keep trying to polish him up and take him to the next level."

Gilmore has mentioned Cincinnati's motto from 2008 to his new players, and he expects them to brainstorm their own rallying cry when the season rolls around.

"It's all about what they identify with," Gilmore said. "I'm sure during the course of the spring and summer camp, we'll come up with something. But it's got to mean something to them."