Lovie Smith optimistic entering 2nd season with Illini
Jul. 31, 2017
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Lovie Smith knew he had a big job when he took over as Illinois' coach, and his first season went about as expected.
The Illini went 3-9, won two conference games and finished 0-6 against the Big Ten West.
They'll have a different look when they open their second camp under Smith on Monday. The former Chicago Bears coach is seeing his vision for a program that was in disarray following the Tim Beckman-era start to take shape, with his first recruiting class on campus.
"We're building and we're going to bring in a class and a lot of those guys will get a chance to play early," Smith said Sunday. "They came here for that reason."
Just about every position is open, though quarterback Chayce Crouch and running back Kendrick Foster have starting jobs locked in. Smith wants to keep both as fresh as possible in camp.
"Kendrick Foster will not be taking a whole lot of hits," Smith said. "Chayce Crouch will not be hit in our preseason practices and if he is, if they are, there's an issue that I'm going to have with that guy."
Wide receiver Ricky Smalling has been excused from camp for unspecified reasons, and Smith said defensive back Jaylen Dunlap might miss the first week of camp because of a minor lower leg injury.
Some key players are also returning from serious knee injuries.
Running back Dre Brown and receiver Mike Dudek are both coming back after tearing ACLs for the second time. While Dudek has made a full recovery, Brown is still rehabbing.
Dudek reinjured himself around this time last year.
"The first time I felt really good and it gave out on me again," Dudek said. "There's definitely the mental hurdle of trusting it again and just trying to make little goals each day. When I'm out on the field (I'm) just trying not to think about it. I just got to go out there, have fun, let my mind be free and try to make plays."
Injuries aside, Smith said his players are in better shape. He said last season only two players could squat over 500 pounds last season. Now, 20 can.
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