If the Illinois spring football game Saturday is your first chance to see the Illini since the 24-point win over Baylor in the Texas Bowl, here's all you need to know after four weeks of spring drills.

CHAMPAIGN - If the Illinois spring football game Saturday is your first chance to see the Illini since the 24-point win over Baylor in the Texas Bowl, here's all you need to know after four weeks of spring drills.


Q: Has anybody stepped forward at running back with the loss of Mike Leshoure to the NFL?


A: Yes, but it's not who you think it would be. Jason Ford, a senior this fall, failed to shed any concerns about his durability and failed to take control of the starting spot. He missed the major scrimmages because of a sore knee, and he's not expected to play in the spring game. Lingering injuries have slowed Ford during his career, and he didn't win any points with the coaching staff.


"That's kind of disappointing,'' said offensive coordinator Paul Petrino. "He has to have a great fall (camp).''


Troy Pollard's status for the spring game remained uncertain Friday following a concussion suffered last weekend. What they've done is leave the door open for incoming freshman Donovonn Young, from Katy, Texas, who is expected to grab carries this fall.


The eye-opener in the spring has been the play of fullback Jay Prosch, who left camp for eight days while visiting his mother, who has been diagnosed with brain cancer. Prosch didn't get a carry last season while serving as the blocking back for Leshoure last season, but the sophomore from Mobile, Ala., is a rising star for his powerful running style.


If the Illini use Prosch as a runner in short yardage, they must find him a blocker. But, Petrino said, Prosch's first responsibilities come at fullback.


Q: Has the passing game improved?


A: Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase gained 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason, and there's a little more zip on his passes. He's also more decisive in his reads, Paul Petrino said, and the Illini passing game ranked 10th in the Big Ten and 111th in the nation a year ago took a step forward in the offseason.


Sophomore wide receiver Ryan Lankford gained 10 pounds in the offseason and might be the team's most improved. This also might finally be the season where the Illini take a look more at the tight end. Athletic sophomore Evan Wilson is a natural blocker who worked on pass catching, and converted quarterback Eddie Villiunas may earn a scholarship for his ability in the passing game.


Q: How good is the offensive line?


A: The unit could be the team's strength. With center Graham Pocic and tackle Jeff Allen serious all-Big Ten candidates, the line has star power. Starting guard Hugh Thornton is aslo back. The return of tackle Corey Lewis from a knee injury will also be key. He was withheld from contact in the spring, and redshirt freshmen Michael Heitz, of Table Grove VIT, and Simon Cvijanovic shared the spot in the spring.


Q: Where's the strength of the defense?


A: Sophomore defensive tackle Akeem Spence is the next star on the line, and linebackers Ian Thomas and Jonathan Brown improved late in the spring season, but the defense's strength comes with the experience and depth in the secondary.


"The secondary is one of the most improved groups on the team,'' coach Ron Zook said.


With Terry Hawthorne and Tavon Wilson starting at cornerback with Trulon Henry and Supo Sanni at safety, there's depth. Justin Green started last season at cornerback, and Steve Hull and Pat Nixon are getting more experienced at safety. There should be enough DBs for nickel packages.


Q: What's the concern on special teams?


A: After sophomore walk-on receiver Tim Russell handled the duties at holder, the concern remained at punter. Incoming scholarship freshman Justin DuVernois is the odds-on favorite to win the job this fall, but that's a lot of pressure on a rookie. Illinois experimented with former placekicker Matt Eller and Lankford, whose rugby punts could be the best option other than DuVernois.


John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.


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Orange and Blue scrimmage


Gametime: 1 p.m. Saturday.


Admission: Free. Use east entrances to Memorial Stadium.


Parking: Free in Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall lots.


Format: Offense vs. defense. Offensive scoring -- first down (1 point), PAT (1 point), play over 30 yards (2 points), field goal (3 points), touchdown (6 points). Defensive scoring -- Any stop (1 point), 3 and out (2 points), fourth-down stop (2 points), turnover (3 points), turnover for touchdown (9 points).


Honorary captains: New York Jets punter Steve Weatherford and Dallas Cowboys safety Alan Ball.


TV: Streamed live on Bigtennetwork.com before a tape-delayed telecast on BTN at 6 p.m. Saturday.