It was defense day in media availability after the football team finished practice. This is the last week before “game weeks” start. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander spoke to the media and had some updates on battles at cornerback and linebacker depth.
As always, these are not exact quotes. They are my best capture in real-time. If something seems off, let me know in the comments and I’ll go through a transcript to get the exact quote.
Defensive Coordinator Erik Chinander
Coach indicated that they’re still doing a lot of speed periods in practice and will begin moving more into scout periods - but he thinks speed periods are important and will continue to do some with the good-on-good (ones vs ones). He mentioned some hybrid speed/scout stuff but said that toward the end of this week and moving into next week they will do true scout periods for Illinois.
After the top three inside linebackers, what are you seeing for depth?
Decisions are going to have to be made this week. There’s four at the top, Nick [Henrich], Luke [Reimer], Chris [Kolarevic], and Garrett Snodgress are playing well. In the group after that you’ve got Jackson Hannah, Ba [Mikai Gbayor?] and Grant Tagge. To me, a little bit of that is going to be determined by special teams. Some of those guys might have to be the next guy up even though they may be neck and neck, but they’re on the bus, so we have to get them reps.
Garrett Snodgrass - what jump has he made?
Garrett is a really smart football player. He has a lot of length. I think his transitions have been a lot better. His twitch is better, his anticipation of where he needs to be is better. He’s continued to raise his level of play.
Competition at corner?
We know Cam Taylor-Britt has one starting spot locked down. The other looks like a three way battle.
That’s one that is still ongoing. The group at the top, Quinton Newsome, Braxton Clark, Tyreke Johnson. A couple of younger guys have really come on too. Marquese Buford and Malik Williams have done some good things over the last week. Those top three are all getting reps with the ones right now and that’s a good competition.
Did you anticipate Tyreke’s first weeks in the program going this smoothly?
Yes and no. You never know with a new guy. But he came from a well run program used to success. So you know he’s used to the day in and day out and how to conduct himself. The part you don’t know is how he’ll get used to the new language and get along with the other guys. He’s done well.
What are you looking for to separate that cornerback competition?
They’re all playing well right now. Someone just has to go take it. Someone has to get their hands on some balls. Somebody has to show up and let us know they can tackle well. Show us they can play on special teams. Those guys will have to help us.
How is the pass rush?
We all know we have to create more pressure on the QB. Pass rush in camp so far is much improved. Is it where we want it? No. We’ve got a ways to go, but it is much improved from last year’s. We have the same group as last year, but they’re much improved.
On defensive lineman Jordan Riley
He’s played nose and some 4i and in the four down stuff he’s playing 3 shade and technique. He’s done a good job with his body, he’s much leaner, twitchier. The biggest thing for him is that he’s comfortable in knowing what his job is. There’s not a lot of thinking anymore, he can line up and play ball. That’s helped him a ton.
Your viewpoint on the offensive run game?
So far, I like what they’re doing. I’m not going to give out a bunch of scheme stuff. They’re doing a good job running down hill. Tight ends, the line are physical up front the backs are running hard. They have some install things they haven’t had previously I really like. I like how the passing game is built off some of those run actions. I like what they’re doing.
Have you noticed both lines getting bigger?
Yes. Team wide, the offensive and defensive line. You’ve seen those body types change. We’ve got more length and Zach Duval can add the bulk we want. They’re manintaing athleticism but still getting bigger and stronger.
Pass rusher or lockdown corner?
If we know we have a lockdown guy, we can bring extra guys in pass rush situations. As you go out to recruit people, those are the 1a and 1b. You have to go find corners and then find someone to rush the passer. In the NFL, it is a different game. The QB doesn’t run as much. Those pass rushers and corners affect the game a lot. It does here too. If you can lockdown at corner, you can do more to bring pressure. There’s a lot of things you can do with a lockdown corner. In college, if you have a war daddy off the edge, it changes things too. So lockdown corner is 1a and pass rusher is 1b.
Has Cam Taylor-Britt reached that level?
I think Cam has parts of his game he can work on, yes absolutely. I think he’s put himself in position to be one of the top corners in the country. Absolutely. He just has to keep upping the ante, and he can do what he wants. The potential is unlimited there.
On DL Ty Robinson
When you watched Ty last year, you guys saw a lot of good things in games. I saw (on film) a lot of mistakes from a young guy. Times when nobody else in the stadium would know a run got popped because a young guy missed his technique. He’s done a good job this camp with gap integrity, doing his job, knowing when to take a shot, when to play a block. The mental side of his game has grown a lot.
Expectations for him?
His physical ability and size, there’s no question he belongs in the conversation of great 3 techniques in college football. It’s just can he play as well mentally as some of those guys. In this league, even those defensive lineman have a great understanding of scheme and what needs to be done. You don’t see d-lineman going cowboy and rodeo and doing what they want. Everybody has coached those guys up well in this league. That’s what he needs to do yet is get dialed in mentally.