Justin Green Now Comfortable At Corner

Justin Green (Jack Lyman)

Entering last season, injuries left the Illinois secondary thin and inexperienced for the most part. This year, the Illinois secondary has a spring and summer of tutelage under Coach Mike Gillhamer, and cornerback Justin Green is roaming the field with more experience under his belt.

Justin Green came to Illinois with an opportunity to play running back. He saw action at the position his freshman year, but there was plenty of competition from Mikel Leshoure, who became a 2nd round NFL draft pick, and Jason Ford.

After injuries hit the Illinois secondary hard last summer, Green made the switch to cornerback, and he now believes the Illinois secondary has more depth than ever.

"Definitely. We have enough corners to where if someone goes down, we can fill someone in right now. We have enough safeties as well."

Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning likes to have his playmakers on the field. One combination that has been used extensively this year is corners Green, Terry Hawthorne and Tavon Wilson patrolling the secondary together.

"Yeah. We take a look at the game plan and see what teams are doing. It has worked to our advantage against passing teams."

A year dedicated to cornerback has vastly improved Green's game. Extensive work with defensive back coach Mike Gillhamer has allowed Green to step his game up to a new level.

"We've put in a whole lot of work. We have a great coach who breaks everything down for us and takes everything slow with us so we can understand why we do what we do."

Last year, Green was thrust into a new position just weeks before the season, so his learning curve was steep despite playing corner in high school. Upon the arrival of Coach Gillhamer, things seemed to become clearer for him.

"He's helped a lot. Last year I was kind of thrown into the fire, so he slowed everything down for me. It's helping slow the game down for me, and I understand everything better."

Hard work never hurts either. Green and his teammates put in their fair share of effort this summer, which is paying off now.

"We worked hard all summer, 5 or 6 days a week usually."

His fellow defensive backs aren't the only teammates who have helped him raise his game. Competition against his offensive counterparts has allowed him to practice his cover skills. Illinois receivers challenge him to become a better player.

"The receivers are definitely giving us a good look in practice, so that really helps us."

While Green has been considered one of three starters for two positions all season, the Illini played two cornerbacks most of the time against Ohio State. Green was in the starting lineup.

"I'm doing what Coach tells me to do. The coach called my number; it is a good feeling to know the coaches do have confidence in me to go out there and play.

"Things are going great for me. I'm just working and taking one game at a time, one play at a time. We have a nice little rotation, trying to keep everyone fresh."

The Louisville native's older brother played for Ohio State, so he had special incentive to play well last Saturday.

"OSU is a great team. One of my goals has always been to compete and maybe one day beat them. Even though we didn't get the "W," I still think we came out and played hard."

While the Illini lost the game, Green can draw solace from defensive coordinator Vic Koenning's compliment afterward.

"Justin is doing fine. I thought he did a great job (Saturday). He didn't have a ball caught on him. Any time you're playing a team with that caliber of receivers, unbelievable looking specimens, (that says something)."

Green says he and his teammates are frustrated by the loss but have every intention of continuing their winning ways.

"I'm definitely looking forward to it. Hopefully, we can end on a positive note."

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