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2012 Illinois Football Spring Practice: Illini Get Back To Work Starting March 7, As Beckman Era Begins

The Illinois Fighting Illini get back to work with an eye on success in 2012 and beyond, and the journey starts on March 7, 2012.

Illinois Fighting Illini football officially moves into the Tim Beckman era when spring practices begin on March 7, and although the events are closed to the public, the spring practice season does culminate with a chance to see the team at the annual Orange and Blue Spring Game on April 14. Parking and admission are both free for that planned scrimmage. Beckman, who previously coach at Toledo, took over for Ron Zook after the program fired Zook amid a terrible losing streak in the second half of the 2011 season.

The Illini lost key players on offense and defense, so Beckman has plenty of work to do. Defensive end Whitney Mercilus declared for the 2012 NFL Draft after racking up 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles in a spectacular junior season, while wide receiver A.J. Jenkins -- who had 1,276 yards receiving and eight touchdowns last season -- graduated.

Even so, Beckman is excited about the opportunity and has high hopes for the Illini in 2012, but there are some problems that he knows need to be fixed:

"Special teams were as bad as there was in this country, probably," Beckman said in an interview with The Associated Press, "and that's what needs to get definitely changed."..."They had some knucklehead things, too, if you'll remember," Beckman said, recalling at least one decision to field a punt inside the team's own 10..."I'm again just concerned with depth and the youth."

quotes via David Mercer of the Washington Post.

For more on the Fighting Illini, head over to Hail to the Orange. For updates on recruiting, stay tuned to SB Nation Chicago. For more on the developments around college football, keep track of SB Nation's college football hub.