CHICAGO – First-year Illinois coach Lovie Smith made a Chicago Bears reference during his return tour around the city where his head coaching career began.
No, he didn’t reiterate that Rex Grossman is his starting quarterback. But, he did make an interesting connection between his current quarterback, Wes Lunt, and Grossman’s old backup during their time with the Bears.
Lunt is viewed by some scouts as a potential NFL prospect and is currently ranked as the No. 9 quarterback in the 2017 draft class by CBSSports.com. Lunt’s talent has always been tantalizing, but frequent changes to the offense combined with some lackluster talent around him has restricted his production. He threw for 2,761 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions last season, despite a dearth of receiving weapons.
Smith knows a thing or two about NFL quarterback play. Most notably, he coached Grossman and the Bears to a Super Bowl. He’s also worked with elite talent and coached former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston during his final season in the NFL in Tampa Bay.
But the quarterback Smith brought up when discussing an NFL quarterback Lunt reminded him of might make Bears fans and Illini fans a little squeamish.
“My time in Chicago we had Kyle Orton,” Smith said. “Kyle made great decisions, threw the ball to the right person, good leader, teammates really liked him, believed in him. Our players feel the same way about Wes. Wes is a better athlete though.”
But Lunt can be more than just a mercurial journeyman like Orton. Smith says a major factor behind Lunt’s potential is his leadership ability.
“You watch our workouts, he leads a lot of the sprints and if you talk with him you really kind of buy into who he is,” Smith said. “He’s been through a lot. As a quarterback, you go into a game, you have a plan, but teams start blitzing and you have to adjust.”
Lunt’s Illinois experience hasn’t been easy, but perhaps his final season with a former NFL coach on the sidelines could be the time the talented gunslinger finally turns potential into fruition.
“Think about playing for four head coaches, so he can adjust,” Smith said. “We like him being in charge.”