On February 14, Lovie Smith will begin his second “spring practice” since his arrival as head coach at Illinois last March. Last year, the sessions were hurriedly put together with the coaching staff being hired a short time before the practice began. The players and coaches were strangers to one another. But this year the situation is different. Lovie Smith and eight of his coaches have been through a whole season of football together with most of these players. There is an empty spot on the staff left when Tim McGarigle departed the team for a job with the Green Bay Packers (he’ll be replaced by Donnie Abraham), and there are four players from the 2017 recruiting class participating in spring ball. But the point is, that the players and coaches now have had a whole year to get know the offensive and defensive systems and get to know one another. That knowledge and experience will allow Smith and his staff to build a better football team at Illinois. A more stable and cohesive team will result. And don’t forget, that this fall will be the first time that the Illinois seniors will begin the season the same head coach two years in a row. Lovie Smith now knows his players, and the players know what expect from him, so the end should be a better Illinois football team in 2017.