CHAMPAIGN - Ron Zook couldn't say enough Tuesday about the off-season improvement made by starting quarterback Tim Brasic.
But that won't stop Zook from building playing time for freshman quarterback Juice Williams into the game plan for Saturday's season opener.
Zook confirmed Tuesday that Williams, and possibly fellow freshman Eddie McGee, will get to run the offense at pre-determined times during Saturday night's game against Eastern Illinois.
"We have talked about it a little bit as a staff, and definitely, at least Isiah (Juice) will get snaps, and possibly Eddie as well," the Illini head coach said. "The only way you get better is to play. We'll have a similar plan to what we used at Florida."
When Zook was head coach at Florida, he wasted no time putting freshman quarterback Chris Leak onto the field. And by the fifth game of the season, Leak had become the starter.
Zook is making no such predictions about Williams or McGee. But the fact is, no quarterback other than Brasic has ever taken a snap in a college football game. So Zook is determined to get at least some live-fire experience for the No.1 backup.
"Whoever we decide the backup quarterback will be, that guy is just one play away from being in there," the coach said.
Zook said the backup primary quarterback, likely to be Williams, will enter the game and leave at designated times. Whether that's the third offensive series of the game, or the first offensive series of the second quarter, remains to be seen.
"We'll make a decision prior to the kickoff, and (Williams) will know it," Zook said.
Zook said he will not extend the playing time, or shorten it, based on quality of play.
"I want them to know how much they will be out there," he said. "The worst thing you can do is take a young guy and say, 'If you make a mistake, you're coming out.' Let them play. Let them go out there and play. Is that the ideal situation? No, but it is what it is.
"I have a freshman punter, too. Let's say Kyle (Yelton's) first punt is not good. Well, he's our punter. He's going to punt every punt. You have to give him a chance to grow up. It's the same with the quarterback. They already have enough pressure on them. You have to give them a chance."
Zook said it's too early to say whether McGee would redshirt if he doesn't make it onto the playing field in early-season games.
"If it was a perfect world, we'd redshirt one of them," he said. "Down the road we'll talk about that. With all these freshmen, I don't want to get into who's going to redshirt.
"There are a couple of guys who may not be ready to play Saturday. But how are they going to be in four weeks? I don't think this is the time to talk about redshirting with any of the freshmen. Some of them are going to play right now, we do know that."
Zook said Brasic is a different quarterback now than the inexperienced junior who got the call as the starter last season.
"I don't think there's any comparison," he said. "One thing we talked about is that the quarterback has to spend more time than we're allowed to spend with him and Tim has done that this summer. You can tell. He's much more confident. He knows where he wants to go with the ball."
Running back Pierre Thomas said Brasic has made huge strides.
"He's more of a leader now, with more experience under his belt," Thomas said. "Until last year, he'd never had a chance to play in front of so many people with so much pressure on his back.
"He's been practicing and studying real hard and he has improved a lot. He is probably the player on this team who has improved the most. I expect a lot of him."