First-year Illini offensive coordinator will call the plays. Meanwhile, Illinois suffers loss at linebacker. ALSO, Luke Guthrie cashing the check.
He won't admit to what's on his sheet of scripted plays for Illinois' football season opener, but it's easy to say co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty has waited for this moment for a long time. From his vantage point in the coaches box, Beatty will call the plays for the first time in a major-college game. "You try to get to a point like this in big-time football and having the chance to call the plays,'' he said Monday after practice. "I'm looking forward to it.'' When coach Tim Beckman leads the Illini against Western Michigan on Sept. 1 (11 a.m., ESPNU), the program is under a microscope. That goes with the territory for a team under transition. Will the quarterback be improved? Who are the playmakers? Can the defense meet the challenge and improve from last year's top 10 ranking? Yet in this first month of the season, everyone wants to know how this new coaching staff will work under the pressure of gameday. A young, upwardly mobile group wants to make a strong first impression. Offensive line coach Luke Butkus is a full-time college assistant for the first time. Alex Golesh arrived with Beckman to handle the tight ends, specialists and oversee the recruiting department. Defensive coordinator Tim Banks takes over a defense developed into one of the best in the nation under former coordinator Vic Koenning. Meanwhile, Beatty hasn't called plays since 1996, when he was offensive coordinator at Hampton, an FCS program. During his stint as a position coach at West Virginia, Beatty made suggestions to offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. "I felt like even though he was calling the plays, I had a lot of input,'' Beatty said. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said Beatty likes to share the ball. "The biggest things is we like spreading the ball around, getting the ball in different players' hands, getting a lot of playmakers involved,'' Scheelhaase said. "We like using the whole field, trying to keep defenses honest and not allowing them to focus on one thing or one player.'' Co-offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales will work the sideline with Butkus. Banks will also work from the coaches box. Meanwhile, Illinois lost some depth at linebacker after sophomore Henry Dickinson suffered a season-ending broken leg last week. Sophomore Henry Cooper and Zeph Grimes will likely get more of a look. Freshmen Mason Monheim, Mike Svetina and T.J. Neal have also impressed Beckman. Walk-on kicker Nick Immekus and sophomore punter Justin DuVernois lead position battles, Beckman indicated, and the Illini juggled the offensive line since leaving Camp Rantoul in an effort to build depth. On Monday, senior Graham Pocic lined up at right tackle, and he could play anywhere on the line. GOLF: Former Illini Luke Guthrie, the two-time Big Ten Conference champ, already learned how to cash the check in professional golf in his first three months out of school. In three PGA Tour events, he netted $284,672. In four tournaments on the Web.com Tour, Guthrie also earned $152,963. If you need an accountant, here's the total: that's roughly 438K. "I believed in myself,'' Guthrie said. "I never played this much golf back to back. It's a pleasant surprise to see how I handled it, seeing that I'm pretty consistent. "After those rounds (in PGA events), there were a couple times where it was, 'Wow, that was pretty cool.' Next day is a new day. You're only as good as what have you done for me lately.'' Guthrie took this week off to return to Champaign, see his friends and work on his game. He will finish the season by playing in eight Web.com Tour events, including seven consecutive weekends starting in September. The top 25 money winners in the Web.com standings earn PGA Tour cards. After playing just four Web.com events, he ranks 15th in money. VOLLEYBALL: The defending NCAA runners-up, the Illini were picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten coaches poll. Illinois tied for second last season with Purdue and Penn State behind league champ Nebraska, the pick by the coaches to win the title again this season. The Illini didn't place a member on the preseason all-conference team. Nebraska's Hannah Werth, a Chatham Glenwood graduate, was a member of the eight-play preseason list. . . John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.