Illinois' 2012 was pretty much a disaster. There's no getting around that, and head coach Tim Beckman doesn't deny it.
"Nobody was happy with last year," he told ESPN.com on Friday. "I mean, no one."
But spring is a time for optimism, and so the Illini will be hopeful of better things when they hit the practice field on Tuesday. But there are still a lot of issues to address, and a big one is finding leaders.
Beckman said leadership-building has been a key throughout the offseason. He has brought in a guest speaker each Monday to talk about leadership qualities, including ex-military types and a Paralympics gold medalist.
"We've really been pushing it," he said.
Leaders that have emerged so far this winter, Beckman said, include senior Steve Hull, who has moved from the secondary to wide receiver; linebacker Mason Monheim, who was one of the team's top defensive players as a true freshman; and junior safety Earnest Thomas.
"Guys that probably weren't known much as leaders last year have jumped up and tried to lead this football team," Beckman said.
Depth, especially at the receiver and defensive back positions, remains a problem. The Illini brought five junior college transfers in for immediate help, and though Beckman is anxious to see them on the field, he said all five have done everything asked of them off the field so far.
Beckman is also hoping to build some excitement for the team among a fan base that was soured by last year's 2-10 season. He'll open up every Friday practice to the public, and Illinois will practice in Chicago on March 29 (at Gately Stadium).
"We've got to sell a little bit more of the buzz about Illini football," Beckman said.
Ultimately, only winning will do that. But spring practice gives Illinois a chance to turn the page on last year's disaster.
A couple of other notes from Beckman:
He said senior Nathan Scheelhaase remains his starting quarterback going into the spring and that "somebody's got to beat him out." Junior Reilly O'Toole will try to do just that, and hotshot recruit Aaron Bailey will come in this summer.
Linebacker Jonathan Brown, who was banged up much of last year, will be limited this spring and held out of contact drills.
Look for a full Q&A with Beckman on Monday.