Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big Ten [Print without images]

Friday, March 19, 2010
Big Ten Q&A: Illinois' Ron Zook, Part II

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Here's the second half of my interview with Illinois head coach Ron Zook. For Part I, click here.

Stylistically with these quarterbacks, from what you've been able to see, are they somewhat similar or are there big differences?

Ron Zook: I don't think there are big differences. The one thing I've always said about Jacob Charest is he moves around a lot better than what people think. He's a better athlete than people think. He was a heck of a wrestler in high school, a tough guy. He can drop back and throw it, but he's also got the ability to run around, which is what you think about with Nathan [Scheelhaase] and Chandler [Whitmer]. You get the ball in their hands and let them do the things that they do best.

When you have a quarterback situation like you have, do you look for leadership from those guys or elsewhere, from guys who have played more?

RZ: [The quarterbacks will] have enough pressure on them. Because of the kind of people they are, they're natural leaders anyway. That'll come. I don't think you put the added pressure on them of, 'You've got to be the leaders.' Just like you said, the guys who have been there and done that, the Jason Fords, the Mikel [LeShoures], the Jarred [Faysons], A.J. Jenkins, those are the guys, the offensive linemen. That's what's exciting about the offense, we've got a lot of guys back, a lot of guys that can make plays.

Jarred was a guy who generated a lot of excitement headed into last season. Do you look at him as a guy who can take care of that receiving corps?

RZ: He has so far, and Eddie McGee, he's a leader around here, too. He's been a very vocal guy out there in the 6 a.m.'s. A.J. Jenkins is a completely different guy. He's not the same person he was last year. He's playing with an unbelievable amount of confidence and emotion and running around out there. So all of those guys are going to bring the leadership you want.

On the defensive side, how is Martez Wilson doing? I know it was a big loss when he went down last year.


RZ: It was, because he was the bell cow, and he was a guy that everybody kind of leaned on. Now Ian Thomas has stepped it up, Nate Bussey, Corey Liuget has a lot of playing time. Clay Nurse is out there, he had a shoulder operation and he's doing everything but the doctor's won't let him go full speed. He seems like he's full speed to me. Martez is doing everything. Obviously, when we get into spring ball, he probably won't scrimmage, but the leadership he had before he got hurt is right there again. There's no trade-off.

Is anyone out for all of spring ball? Who will be limited?

RZ: I don't think anyone will miss spring. Martez will be limited in the amount of contact, as will Clay Nurse. Miami Thomas will be back. He should be OK. But in terms of missing spring, right now we have everybody.

Miami was having a really good preseason last year before he got hurt. Is he a guy you're looking for to step up in the secondary?

RZ: I want Miami just to be able to go have a chance. This poor guy has had every joint operated on -- both shoulders, both knees -- and it's always been a freak thing. I would just like for him to be able to do what he loves to do. I'm not going to put any pressure on him. I know he can play. He's just got to get healthy and go out and do it.

Anyone else in the secondary that you're excited to see this spring?

RZ: Tavon Wilson has done an exceptional job, and Terry Hawthorne as well. Both of those guys have been all we felt like they could be. And then Supo Sanni, he's ready to take the next step as well.

Ron, do you take this as an us-against-the-world mentality this year? I know the players weren't satisfied last year, you weren't satisfied. Is there something to prove for everyone?

RZ: In football, there's always something to prove. They know this: The only way you're going to get respect is you've got to go do it. From that standpoint, I don't think there's any question we have a lot to prove. They want to go out and show people that they're better than the result of last year. And as a coaching staff, you always want to prove that you're better than what your previous year was.

Is it important to keep a positive environment this spring? You mentioned the negative recruiting that went on and some of the negativity around the program? Is it important to keep things as upbeat as you can?

RZ: Our guys have never been negative. That hasn't been the issue. The positive attitude we've got going right now is as good as it's ever been around here. As I said, we've got to go do it. We've got to prove that we can do it. We've got a lot of young guys, but we've also got a lot of guys with experience. I like the feel of this team right now. I like how they're working, I like the attitude, and I like how they're competing.