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Two Illinois defensive backs to miss spring ball

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois safety Donsay Hardeman and cornerback Miami Thomas will miss spring practice while recovering from surgeries, head coach Ron Zook said Tuesday at his post-mortem news conference.

Hardeman, who worked his way into a starting role, will undergo surgery Friday to repair a disc in his neck. The junior first experienced problems with the disc Nov. 1 against Iowa, played two more games and then sat out last Saturday's regular-season finale against Northwestern.

Hardeman tied for sixth on the team in tackles (44) and recorded an interception and a forced fumble.

Cornerback Miami Thomas, who redshirted the season because of a knee injury, will have shoulder surgery in the coming weeks.

Zook also reiterated his support for junior quarterback Juice Williams. Though Williams led Big Ten starters with 16 interceptions this fall, Zook said eight were not his fault. Williams' primary backup, Eddie McGee, will continue to see some action at wide receiver in 2009.

"We underachieved," Zook said of a disappointing 5-7 season. "That may be the worst thing you can say to a coach. Maybe we overachieved last year. We got a few breaks last year that we didn't get this year. But there's no question in my mind we'll get there."