Chicago Colleges: Mike Bellamy

Greg Colby and Mike Bellamy both have seen better days at Illinois.

During Colby's first stint as an assistant at his alma mater (1988-95), Illinois shared a Big Ten championship in 1990 and reached six bowl games in seven seasons. Bellamy starred at wide receiver for two of those Illini bowl teams (1988 and 1989). Illinois went 10-2 during Bellamy's senior season, when he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and second-team All-America honors as a kick returner.

Both men played for the Orange and Blue, and both are in their first seasons as full-time assistants on Tim Beckman's revamped coaching staff. Their challenge: recapture the winning ways after a 2-10 disaster in 2012.

"When I was here before, we had some pretty good success," Colby recently told ESPN.com. "A championship, six bowls, and played pretty well. I want to see Illinois be successful. I have all along, and now I've got [a job] where I can have a little bit of an influence, at least. So I've got a very strong vested interest.

"It is personal for me."

[+] EnlargeRyan Lankford
Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY SportsNew Illinois receivers coach Mike Bellamy will aim to get more production from Ryan Lankford in 2013.
Every Friday during the offseason, Beckman has speakers address the team to talk about the program's history. Colby and Bellamy recently made a joint presentation, discussing their playing days in Champaign and, in Colby's case, his first run as an assistant.

Colby returned as defensive line coach after five years as head coach at Division II Millersville University in Pennsylvania. He has made four stops since leaving Illinois following the 2005 season, including two at other Big Ten schools (Michigan State and Northwestern). Bellamy, who played for four NFL teams between 1990-95, takes over as Illinois' receivers coach after serving as the team's assistant director of player personnel and relations in 2012.

"Last year, being around the guys, I told them I was one of them," Bellamy told ESPN.com. "So that made it easy during this offseason, being in their ear and watching them work out, giving them tips here and there on how to study. So when the choice was made, some thought it would be a natural fit and Coach Beckman wanted to make sure he got the right guy.

"I was excited."

Bellamy works with a group that, like the rest of the offense, underperformed in 2012. He inherits veterans like Ryan Lankford and Spencer Harris, and has seen some good signs this spring from converted safety Steve Hull and Miles Osei, a full-time wideout after serving as a reserve quarterback for three seasons. Junior-college transfer Martize Barr also has been a bright spot.

Colby oversees a group that has been Illinois' strength despite the team's recent struggles. Two Illini defensive linemen -- Whitney Mercilus (2012) and Corey Liuget (2011) -- have been selected in the first round of the NFL draft in the past three years. Linemen like Michael Buchanan, Akeem Spence and Glenn Foster could hear their names called later this month.

Although Colby is aware of the recent track record, he's not focusing on it.

"It’s all attitude right now," he said. "That's what the offseason is. If you don't develop it now, you're not going to have it in the fall during the season."

Colby inherits a young group that includes only one player (senior Tim Kynard) with significant game experience. He hopes Jake Howe and Austin Teitsma can blossom, and he's seen flashes from redshirt freshman Vontrell Williams.

"I don't think we're going to have the All-American, All-Big Ten that they’ve had in the past, but who knows," Colby said. "That's not something we really focus on. We've got to be blue-collar players up front. That’s what we're trying to instill, the kind of work ethic. Don't depend on your athleticism to make plays for you.

"Depend on your work ethic, and let your athleticism be the icing on the cake."

Both Colby and Bellamy often talk to players about forging a legacy, one the coaches helped shape as former Illini.

"I told them a couple times, 'At some point, you’ve got to take this personally,'" Bellamy said. "To me, this is personal right now.

"We can't go anywhere but up.”

CHICAGO -- Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit knows what he represents: another round of changes for players who have experienced plenty of them.

Cubit is Illinois' fourth offensive play-caller and fourth offensive coordinator in the past three seasons (Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales shared play calls and the coordinator role in 2012). No unit in the Big Ten has endured more recent transition than the Illini offense. Cubit understands what his players have been through, but he's not decelerating the learning curve this spring. Just the opposite.

"Like I told those guys, what you did in the past really doesn’t make a bit of difference," Cubit said Friday before Illinois held a spring practice/scrimmage at Gately Stadium on Chicago's South Side. "We've just got to get this thing done. ... Ohio State, Penn State, Northwestern, none of these people really care. You've got to face the facts."

The facts are Illinois had one of the nation's worst offenses in 2012. The Illini finished 119th nationally in both yards per game and points per game, 107th in passing and 97th in rushing. Big Ten play brought even greater struggles for Illinois, which averaged just 272 yards and 11.8 points in eight league contests.

Cubit, a longtime offensive coordinator before spending the past eight seasons as Western Michigan's head coach, is tasked to turn things around in a hurry. He's not wasting any time installing his system, and not downplaying what it entails for the players.

"The system is vastly different from what they've done," he told ESPN.com. "The routes are vastly different. The quarterback reads, the quarterback steps are vastly different. We're going to play underneath the center at times."

Quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole, who are competing for the starting job, are absorbing the brunt of the changes under Cubit. In addition to taking more snaps under center, both are working on getting the ball out quickly.

Cubit's target is 2.2 seconds, typically out of a five-step drop. He notes that even the slightest delay, like holding the ball at chest level rather than shoulder level, where it can be quickly released, makes a big difference.

"I don't think we have the personnel that we just sit back there and take seven-step drops and guys will be open," Cubit said.

Scheelhaase and O'Toole also have had to change their footwork and throwing mechanics, a process which, according to Cubit, has been fairly easy. Because neither quarterback worked much under center before, they haven't had to break longtime habits.

Although Scheelhaase has a major experience edge (36 career starts), Cubit said the quarterbacks are "about equal" so far this spring. Cubit is focused more on installing his system than evaluating a potential starter, and the competition likely will last through the summer and into preseason camp. It's highly unlikely Illinois will use a rotation at quarterback.

"Let’s find the one guy we know we can win with and go," Cubit said, "and prepare that other guy in case something happens."

Whomever emerges will need a lot of help, as Illinois struggled to find playmakers in 2012. Cubit likes the potential of the tight end group: Evan Wilson, Matt LaCosse and, when he gets healthy, Jon Davis. Running backs Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young have had good springs.

There are bigger questions at wide receiver. Although Illinois returns a few familiar names (Ryan Lankford, Spencer Harris), it needs others to emerge and could be turning to several players who have switched positions (Steve Hull, Miles Osei) as well as a junior-college arrival (Martize Barr).

"The biggest change has been Steve Hull moving from defense to offense," wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy said. "He's polished, he's excited, he's energized, he's competitive. He's making big plays."

Head coach Tim Beckman called the offensive line Illinois' "biggest concern" after a season where the group surrendered a league-worst 39 sacks and the Illini averaged a league-low 3.5 yards per carry. The silver lining is players like Michael Heitz, Simon Cvijanovic and Ted Karras have experience under their belts. Alex Hill has moved from guard into the top center spot this spring.

Cubit has tried to tailor his scheme to help out the offensive line.

"We've got to play to their strengths also," he said. "The one thing I see there is willingness. Probably a scarred group, like the whole offense. When you’re next to last [nationally] in offense, you're going to have some gaps out there. But I just keep on telling them how good they can be. And they can.

"They've got a shot."

Spring Q&A: Illinois coach Tim Beckman

March, 4, 2013
3/04/13
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Very little went right for Illinois under first-year coach Tim Beckman last year. After a 2-10 season, the Illini are ready to turn the page and look forward to 2013 when they hit the practice field Tuesday.

I recently caught up with Beckman to ask about the pressing issues his team faces this spring. Here is that Q&A:

[+] EnlargeTim Beckman
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsDespite a 2-10 record this past season and a slew of changes on his staff, Illinois' Tim Beckman is full of optimism heading into spring workouts.
You turned over half your staff from last year, with some voluntary departures and some not. What has that been like and how much transition are you going through right now?

Tim Beckman: Well, it's kind of crazy, because I saw a stat the other day where there's only, like, 22 staffs that haven't changed in college football, so it's been the norm. But I think with the professionalism that coaches have and the guys I've been able to hire into this new family, they're outstanding people. They're professionals, they've been coordinators, they've been head coaches, they've been in great programs. The transition has been good. I've been able to hire two Illini, which is huge, with [receivers coach Mike] Bellamy and [defensive line coach Greg] Colby.

So I think it's been a great transition. Our players have been really excited. With Mike Bellamy, he's been involved with this program for a year. So the kids were pumped when he was hired on staff, because they know him. And now he brings that Illinois flavor to the staff. All the other coaches, we've been working with each other. Jim Bridge was telling me the other day there are four or five other guys that he's been with at other places. So that's one of the unique things, because it's like a fraternity. These guys have worked with one another.

How much will the offense change with new coordinator Bill Cubit?

TB: Well, it's Bill's offense. It's what Bill was hired for. And that's how it's always been, really, with the coordinators. But I think the uniqueness that Bill has, in coaching against him, is that he's been able to adapt his offense based on personnel. He's had Jordan White, a great, great football player. He's had great wide receivers, and he's been able to move them around and adapt his offense to the guys that need to be getting the football.

After a year like last year, what do you do to keep the players' confidence up?

TB: We went back to a lot of competition, back to a lot of leadership building. We addressed the situation that occurred. I met, as I always do, with each one of the players for 10 minutes. That takes a good week. We did that in December. I asked them what their goals were, because we split up the season into four quarters -- winter workouts, spring practice, summer workouts and then the most important quarter, the season. And I had them set goals for themselves to attain each quarter. So they just wrote out their goals out for spring ball. And I also do the same thing for the team. "What do you want this team to be able to say they can do after each quarter?"

Our motto is win whatever is needed, and win the day. Whatever is needed today for us to become a better and closer football team.

What are your primary concerns for this spring?

TB: The scenario here is depth. There hasn't been depth. And when you get a young man injured, it hits you drastically because you just don't have that depth. We were able to get 10 young men here in January, five junior college players and five high school players. Junior college wise, there hasn't been a whole bunch here before. There might have been one or two. But we needed to add age to our football team, and that's what the junior college players help us do.

You've only seen the junior college guys in winter workouts so far, but what is your early impression of those guys?

TB: The first thing that I look at always is how have they been accountability wise. Because it's new. They get in here, and, bam, they're thrown into the fire right away. I'm proud, because they've all been very accountable. We haven't been late for things. Being in school and being a football player hasn't got their minds out of whack or anything like that. They've shown football wise that they can compete, but they've also shown that they're doing a very good job of being accountable on and off the football field.

How do you see the quarterback competition, where you've got a veteran starter in Nathan Scheelhaase but also a guy in Reilly O'Toole who's played a lot and a big-time recruit (Aaron Bailey) coming in?

TB: As in any position, there's competition. Nathan will go in as the guy, being the starter. Somebody's got to beat him out. But Nathan's won a lot of football games here. We had a tough year, no question, but that's not going to be on Nathan's shoulders. He was getting sacked too many times. All those things you can't have your quarterback doing, getting hit. We've got to get better at protecting our quarterback, and we've got to be able to get the ball out quicker and do those types of things so our quarterback can be successful.

[+] EnlargeSteve Hull
Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY SportsSteve Hull will be trading in delivering hits for making catches on offense this spring.
You talked often last year about the lack of depth at the offensive skill positions. How has that come along?

TB: It's getting better. Those young men we played with last year have moved up in age. We've taken Steve Hull and moved him to offense, so that adds age and depth to that position. Wide receivers and DBs are the big concern here. And we've been able to add freshmen and junior college players to those positions.

Why did you move Hull to receiver?

TB: He's had some issues with injury. We felt that Steve, for his fifth year, would be better suited to play on the offensive side of the ball to take out maybe some of the direct collisions he was getting as a safety. And he's been great with it. He loves it, and he's emerged as being one of the big vocal leaders on the team.

The offensive line really struggled last year, and you lost two senior starters in Graham Pocic and Hugh Thornton. How does that position group look going into spring?

TB: Losing the two senior starters, they were dinged up a little bit during the season, so we had to move some players around. But we also had three, really four, players that got a lot of playing time last year. So they should be a year better. I like the philosophy that coach Bridge brings in here as our offensive line coach and what coach Cubit does with the running game. Our offensive line has done a great job these last three months -- and [strength coaches] Aaron Hillman and Dave Andrews get a lot of credit for it -- of getting stronger, getting bigger and doing those things you need to do to be a Big Ten offensive lineman.

You played a lot of freshmen on defense last year, like Monheim and Mike Svetina. Do you expect them to be much farther along this spring because of that experience?

TB: No question. They're not going to be freshmen that are 18 years old out there starting in the Big Ten. They're going to have a year's experience. We played Teko Powell on the defensive line last year so he could gather experience. V'Angelo Bentley played a bunch last year as a true freshman, so he got a bunch of experience. Now these players that were just brought in in January, plus the redshirt freshmen, are going to have to step up and be involved in the front and in the back end. You had a guy like a Jake Howe, who was playing very good and then broke his hand and was out for the year. You have Austin Teitsma, who got quite a few reps last year. Darius Caldwell. Houston Bates, who got hurt last year. Jonathan Brown. We've got to get those guys back and healthy.

You mentioned concerns about depth in the secondary. What young players do you expect to step up there?

TB: I think Eaton Spence has done a good job for us. V'Angelo Bentley has done a good job. The two freshmen we brought in have done a good job in winter workouts. I haven't seen them on the football field, but they've been doing their change of direction stuff very well. A young man named Taylor Barton, a true freshman, has done a good job. Eric Finney, who came in from junior college, LaKeith Walls, B.J. Bello, Jevaris Little -- these are names who have worked extremely hard this season. They're not names a bunch of people know because they've not played yet, other than Spence and Bentley. But these guys have definitely improved.

Have you started identifying leaders on this team yet?

TB: Well, we have really been pushing it. We've been meeting on it. We've been talking about it as a team and then as individual classes, and then our honor council. We've had a guest speaker come in every Monday and talk about leadership, from military people to a gold medal winner in the wheelchair marathon. So we've really built that in. I've seen players from young and old step up in winter workouts, step up and be leaders. Steve Hull has emerged as a guy who definitely does an outstanding job of leading this football team. Mason Monheim, who was a freshman, he's jumped up and taken control. Earnest Thomas. Guys that probably weren't as much leaders last year that might not be seniors have jumped up and tried to lead this football team well.

We've got 62 players who are freshmen and sophomores, so there's a big number of guys who have been here three or less years because of redshirts. So we've got to be able to all be leaders in this program, and that's what we're stressing.

Not surprisingly, the fan base was really down on last year. What can you do to create some more optimism?

TB: I opened up the Friday practices again to the community. This is the University of Illinois. It's our state, our team. We talk about it, and that's the truth. I want to get the community involved in this program. I've always wanted to do that and we're going to do it even more. We're going up to Chicago for a practice. Of course, we've got a game in Chicago at Soldier Field, which is an outstanding opportunity for Illini Nation and those things. We're moving forward.

Nobody was happy with last year. I mean no one. I haven't been involved in that type of year. So we have to move forward and we have to take this program forward. And that's what we asked this football team and this coaching staff to do.

Illini promote Bellamy, reportedly lose aide

February, 20, 2013
2/20/13
6:30
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Illinois' new wide receivers coach knows a lot about catching passes for the Orange and Blue.

Mike Bellamy earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as an Illini receiver in 1989 (he also earned second-team All-America honors as a kick returner that season), when he recorded 59 receptions for 927 yards and eight touchdowns. Bellamy went on to be a second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1990.

His new task calls for him to upgrade Illinois' receiving corps, which, like the rest of the offense, struggled mightily in 2012. Head coach Tim Beckman promoted Bellamy from assistant director of player personnel and relations, a recruiting-based position, to receivers coach. Bellamy replaces Billy Gonzales, who left Illinois for a post with Mississippi State after only one season.

While Bellamy fills one vacancy, Illinois reportedly has lost another assistant as cornerbacks coach Steve Clinkscale is headed to Cincinnati. Clinkscale, one of Illinois' top recruiters, is the fifth assistant to depart Beckman's staff -- four left voluntarily, one was fired. All the staff turnover is no surprise after such a tough 2012 season and with Beckman's uncertain future in Champaign.

Bellamy will be Illinois' fourth new full-time assistant for 2013, joining offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, offensive line coach Jim Bridge and defensive line coach Greg Colby. The Big Ten Network's Howard Griffith, a former teammate of Bellamy's at Illinois, first reported Bellamy's promotion.

"I always say there are three places that I call home -- my family’s house, my mother’s house, and Memorial Stadium," Bellamy said in a statement. "As an alum, I think it's important to teach our players what it means to wear the orange and blue. This program has a proud and storied history, and I can't wait to pass the pride that I have have for Illinois Football on to our current student-athletes."

Bellamy played six seasons of pro ball, in the NFL and the World League, before starting a business with his wife in the Atlanta area. He began coaching high school football in 2008 and served as receivers and specialists coach at Clark-Atlanta University in 2011 before joining Illinois' staff. His previous role involved coordinating events for former players, campus outreach and assisting with recruiting and coaching clinics.

While he has limited coaching experience, his success as a former Illini star and his familiarity with the players should help him in his new role.

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