Illinois expects junior offensive tackle Corey Lewis back on the football field in preseason camp following the second surgery on the same knee, but the Illini can't wait. Neither can Table Grove VIT High School graduate Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic, a pair of redshirt freshmen and roommates who are competing for the spot left vacant by Lewis' injury.

CHAMPAIGN -- Illinois expects junior offensive tackle Corey Lewis back on the football field in preseason camp following the second surgery on the same knee, but the Illini can't wait.

Neither can Table Grove VIT High School graduate Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic, a pair of redshirt freshmen and roommates who are competing for the spot left vacant by Lewis' injury.

"It's unfortunate he got hurt,'' Heitz said. "That's football. Injuries happen, and other people have to step up. Simon and I are competing. One of us should be able to step up for the fall.''

With the other four interior offensive line positions looking solid, the Illini keep an eye on Heitz and Cvijanovic, a pair of athletic big men who made a first impression during Camp Rantoul last August. In the first two days of spring drills, Cvijanovic spent the bulk of the time with the first string, but this is a position up for grabs.

"From the beginning, both of those guys are very hard workers, very athletic,'' coach Ron Zook said. "They've got some big shoes to fill. They get better everyday. The more they're under the gun, the better they can be. They both have an opportunity, and they both know they're going to play. They have to keep it going.''

Heitz can create some shade in the summer, considering he's a 6-foot-5, 295-pounder.

Cvijanovic is a 6-5, 280-pounder from Cleveland Benedictine. That's a lot of offensive tackle stuffed in one dorm room.

"I've known him since my official (recruiting) visit,'' said Heitz, who avoids using his roomie's last name. "I just call him Simon.''

Heitz helped lead the South Fulton co-op team to the Class 1A state quarterfinals as a senior while earning a spot on the small school all-area team by the Peoria Journal Star. Cvijanovic was named all-Midwest Region by PrepStar. Heitz and Cvijanovic raised some eyebrows after getting a look with the first string last summer.

"Both of us got thrown in (with the first string) to see what we're capable of doing,'' Heitz said. "As the season went on, they knew we weren't quite ready, so we both got redshirted.''

But now the Illini are taking another long look at them.

"They told us to get ready,'' Heitz said. "My mindset right now is it's me. I have to perform like it could be my starting job.''

And there's nothing certain about a knee injury, even though Lewis is getting after his rehab.

"You hope (Lewis) is back, but he's not out there right now,'' offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said.

NOTES: Rochester junior quarterback Wes Lunt attended practice Thursday and sat through some of the team meetings. Illinois is one of the seven schools that have offered him a scholarship. ... Former NFL head coach and current ESPN football analyst Jon Gruden is scheduled to speak at the Illinois football coaches clinic Friday. ... The Illini will work in pads Saturday for the first time this spring.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.