CHAMPAIGN — University of Illinois football coach Lovie Smith was vague Monday on the injury situation that kept freshman quarterback Cam Thomas from playing last week. Smith often is vague regarding injuries, but in this case, perhaps he simply doesn’t know.
Thomas suffered a concussion late in the game at Purdue on Nov. 4 and sources say the Illini coaches hoped he would pass the concussion protocol tests by Wednesday of last week. But Thomas was not cleared by team doctors and had to sit out Saturday’s 24-14 loss to Indiana.
Jeff George Jr. took all the quarterback snaps and likely would again this Saturday at Ohio State if Thomas is still being withheld.
Smith said he might know more after the team holds its first practice of the week Tuesday.
Asked specifically if he expects Thomas to play Saturday, Smith said, “Not right now. The last game he didn’t play and until I’m told otherwise he’s out. We’ll see how it goes this week.
“We’re a little banged up. We should get some players back this week but we might lose a few more, too.”
Some concussions take longer than others. Freshman running back Ra’Von Bonner is still out with a concussion he suffered on Oct. 21.
Nickerson returns: Defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson was back in the football complex Sunday. He missed the previous week after his mother died unexpectedly in California.
He buried her on Saturday while the Illini were playing Indiana.
“I really didn’t get a chance to watch the game until I got back on Sunday,” he said. “All of last week was just very, very tough. As a coach you never want to be away from your players. You want to be around the guys and you always want to be coaching them up to be better. That was very tough to be away.”
Nickerson said his absence was made easier because Smith told him he had no choice.
“He just said, ‘Hey, you have to go. You have to be with your family and take care of things.’ The appreciation for that, you just can’t put words with it when you’re going through what I went through last week," Nickerson said.
“Football is always the great escape for me, the thing I love to do. I love coaching the guys. It’s just been good to get back in the office and put video on and get back to work.”
Help wanted: The Illini football program is currently advertising for another assistant coach. The NCAA has approved the addition of a 10th assistant and Illinois is getting the posting out there early even though that person can’t start work until Jan. 8.
There may be several in-house candidates including former Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who is currently an offensive analyst on Smith’s staff.
Scheelhaase got a waiver from the NCAA to serve as a temporary assistant when Illinois lost linebackers coach Tim McGarigle during a busy recruiting period.
Also believed to have interest is James Kirkland, the school’s director of player personnel who once worked with Smith as pro scouting assistant with the Chicago Bears; Pat Embleton, director of football student-athlete development; and Nathan McNeal, director of high school relations.
Game time set: Kickoff for the Northwestern at Illinois season finale will be at 3 p.m., on Nov. 25. The game will be televised on FS1.