The Coach’s Corner with Illinois’ Ron Zook

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Illinois kicked off spring practice late last month following a 7-6 campaign in 2010, a season that concluded with a thorough victory over Baylor in the Texas Bowl. The National Football Post was pleased to speak with Fighting Illini head coach Ron Zook, who is entering his seventh season in Champaign, for the newest edition of The Coach’s Corner podcast.

Ron ZookICONRon Zook is entering his seventh season as Illinois head coach.

This spring, Zook moved the team’s practice sessions to the morning from the afternoon, a growing trend among coaches across the country. The Illini are coming off their first scrimmage of the spring on Wednesday and are about a third of the way through spring drills.

Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning has a lot of work to do reshaping a unit that loses a lot of quality talent, including future NFL draft picks Corey Liuget and Martez Wilson. But as Zook discusses in the podcast, he believes the defensive backfield can be the strength of the defense in 2011. With three starters returning to the secondary, the Illini will have a veteran presence there while developing depth on the defensive line.

On the offensive side of the ball, coordinator Paul Petrino continues to work with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who is coming off a fantastic season as a first-year starter in the Big Ten. All expectations are that he will continue to grow in his second year in this offense, which features A.J. Jenkins leading of a young but talented receiving corps.

Mikel Leshoure is moving onto the NFL, but Illinois native and rising senior Jason Ford looks to carry the mantle of recent successful Illini backs. He rushed for just over 500 yards last year in a backup role and arrived in camp in great shape after battling weight issues throughout his career.

The Illini have eight home games in 2011 for the first time in modern history, and they don’t leave Champaign for the first five games. Certainly, in terms of its schedule, Illinois is set up to continue its momentum from last season.

The Illini conclude spring drills when they partake in the annual Orange-Blue Spring Game on Saturday, April 23.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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