Illinois football fans got to see the first glimpses of what the Bret Bielema era is going to look like on Monday night.
The annual Illini spring game was held at Memorial Stadium in front of some live fans. People were actually attending the game, which is so nice to see. You can’t take this game too seriously as far as x’s and o’s are concerned, but there are a few things to keep an eye on as we move into summer and closer to the 2021 season.
Here are some notes from the Illinois football spring game.
- Vibes seem completely different
While watching the spring game, I got a different vibe with this Illinois football team than I have in years past. Players seemed looser and having more fun on the field and on the sidelines. Everyone seemed to be buying into what Bielema had to say. There seemed to be a little more transparency and structure than what has been shown in the past.
- Bielema has won me over
It has been about five-ish months since Bielema took over as head coach of the Illinois football program. He has done a great job of knowing each player and how they play and their tendencies already this early into the position. That is impressive. I also like his interviews on the sidelines. He is extremely knowledgeable about the college game, and that should have Illinois fans excited.
- The offensive line looked a little different
Illinois surprised me a little bit with their starting offensive line on Monday night. I know when Alex Palczewski is fully healthy, he will take over a starting role. But I was a little surprised that Alex Pihlstrom got the starting nod at guard. I believe the starting offensive line was Vederian Lowe, Blake Jeresaty, Doug Kramer, Pihlstrom and Julian Pearl. I am really surprised Verdis Brown wasn’t in the starting five. This is something to keep an eye on moving forward.
- Adams back at cornerback
It was great to see Tony Adams return to the Illini, and it is even better to see the talented defensive back come back to the cornerback position. He was switched over to safety the last couple of seasons, so Adams in his natural position will only help the Illinois defensive backfield.
- Wait, Marchese is a tight end?
The biggest shock to the system was Michael Marchese catching passes. Yes, that Marchese. The one who has been playing safety or linebacker for Illinois since the dawn of time. He is now catching passes for the Illini as a tight end. I am happy for the kid to see him getting some action. I am also happy he is now a scholarship player for the Orange and Blue.
- Illinois’ running backs are going to be a problem
Wow. That is how I want to start this section. Just, wow. I am excited to see Illinois’ backfield look so stout. Chase Brown is going to lead the way for the Illini this season, there is no doubt about that. I am curious to see what the combination of Reggie Love and Chase Hayden can do as primary backups. That is a three-headed monster that Big Ten foes should be worried about.
- Depth is clearly not there yet
Bielema hasn’t had a full recruiting class yet, and even with a full recruiting class, there are still going to be some depth issues for the first year or two. But Monday’s spring game showed that Illinois’s second-level players aren’t even close to being ready to contribute at a big-time level. The Illinois starters looked like they were playing against high school athletes at times. This will be a problem for the 2021 campaign, but with Bielema at the helm, depth problems should go away with some deep recruiting classes.
Seeing Illinois play football in the middle of April is extremely exciting. The future is so bright for the program. August can’t come soon enough.