Saturday, August 29, 2009

Something Special

For the past couple years, the Illini special teams have adventure. Will 2009 bring improvements?

Coach Zook seems to think there's promise. After two years, punter Anthony Santella will be on scholarship. Punting has not been an Illini strength, but the former soccer player has a positive mindset going into the season. The fan not-so-favorite rugby-style punt could still be used, but Santella's been working on his hang time on regular punts, as well.

Last year the Illini relied on freshman placekickers. This year, as sophomores, Matt Eller and Derek Dimke are set to platoon kicking duties. Eller will take care of field goals and extra points, while Dimke will have kickoff responsibilities. In 2008, Eller set an Illini freshman record with 84 points. He was 15 of 20 on field goals, but once Dimke started handling kickoffs halfway through the season, Eller was 7 of 8.

In the return game, sound decision-making will be key to improve over last year. To make a strong statement in the Big Ten, the miscues and mistakes from 2008 need to become distant memories.

As for coverage and field position, the Illini left plenty of room for improvement from 2008. The speed and strength of this squad should mean that starters don't have to take up the special teams slack like they did last year.

The Big Ten will see plenty of challenging games. The Illini offense should be up for anything, as long as the defense can get them out on the field. But special teams will be critical for success. And it would be nice to see this segment of the team truly become something special.

Go Illini!

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