NORMAL — Zach Breen felt a twinge in his chest on Wednesday before last week’s Illinois State football game at Southern Illinois.
When the pain had not subsided on the eve of the contest in Carbondale, the Redbird punter called special teams coach Jake Schoonover.
“I told Schoonie I would try to play,” Breen said. “I warmed up on Saturday and wasn’t feeling very good. I couldn’t get a lot of power behind the ball. I decided it wasn’t in the best interest of the team or myself to play.”
Breen was replaced by JT Bohlken against the Salukis, but the Normal West High School product returned to practice this week and will resume his punting duties Saturday when 24th-ranked ISU takes on No. 4 South Dakota in a 2 p.m. homecoming game at Hancock Stadium.
“It’s vastly improved from last week,” said Breen. “It could have been a bruise from when I was hit in Arizona (Oct. 7). It could have been inflammation of the muscles between the ribs.”
Breen received anti-inflammatory medication and is "feeling a lot better."
In other positive injury news, tight end Tylor Petkovich and safety Alec Kocour are expected to be available Saturday after showing concussion-like symptoms from hits in the Southern Illinois game.
Both were in the final stage of ISU’s concussion protocol Friday and have shown no ill effects, according to head coach Brock Spack, who added Robert Gillum will start at tight end but Petkovich will see action.
Spack also termed wide receiver Christian Gibbs “probable but not definite” to oppose South Dakota. Gibbs, who had 22 receptions over ISU’s first five games, did not play last week because of a toe injury.
The Redbird coach also looks for all of his offensive linemen to be available. Guard Jared Rients was sidelined last week with a shoulder ailment, and center Dean Helt has been bothered by a sore ankle.
Spack said redshirt freshman and Normal Community graduate Garrett Hirsch will continue to start at center.
“Garrett is getting better,” said Spack. “He’s tough and he wants to be good.”
Jefferson departs: Junior slot receiver Bryce Jefferson has left the team. Spack indicated Jefferson told him he had lost his passion for the game.
Jefferson had two receptions for 26 yards this season and rushed once for 2 yards. The junior caught 14 passes in 2015 as a freshman.
Andy Mills has moved onto the depth chart at slot receiver behind starter Spencer Schnell.
Barajas sidelined: Reserve linebacker Josh Barajas suffered a broken foot in practice this week and will miss the remainder of the season.
“It looks like it (is season ending),” Spack said. “It’s a bad injury.”
A transfer from Notre Dame, Barajas has four tackles this season. Barajas said he may have to undergo surgery to repair tendon damage in the foot.