Reilly O'Toole To Compete For Playing Time

The Fighting Illini football team has only two scholarship quarterbacks available for spring ball, but an entering freshman has a chance to make an early contribution. In part two of his interview, quarterback coach Jeff Brohm talks about his prize recruit Reilly O'Toole and the need to develop depth at the position. He also talks about tight end Jon Davis, whom he recruited out of Louisville.

Reilly O'Toole has led Wheaton Warrenville South to two straight Illinois Class 7A state championships. The 6'-3" signal caller will join the Illini quarterback derby with Nathan Scheelhaase and Miles Osei this summer. Quarterback coach Jeff Brohm talks about O'Toole's assets.

"I think Reilly is a little more of a prototypical pocket passer, but he has athleticism. He's the point guard of the basketball team, he can throw on the run. One of the things we like about him, he can stand in the pocket and make accurate throws.

Probably his number one strength is he's an accurate passer, and he's thrown the ball quite a bit from the pocket. He has a decent feel for it.

"Every level you go up, things get faster and things get tougher. So he's gonna have to adjust to the speed of the game. Adjust to the pocket collapsing on him a little faster than the level he was at. Make throws when the window is a little smaller than he's used to.

"But the thing that stands out with him that we liked is his accuracy when he throws the football. We also wanted athleticism with it, and I think he's athletic. I think he can throw on the run, he can throw accurate on the run. I don't know if he's a tremendous athlete, but he's a good athlete who can throw the ball and is accurate."

Will you try to get O'Toole ready to contribute as a true freshman this fall?

"I don't know if we're ready to do that quite yet. We want to get him ready to go, and we want to get Miles ready to go. The thing that both of those guys have to realize is, we're gonna need one eventually this year. So both guys are gonna get a great opportunity to do that.

"Sometimes you do want to get guys ready to play in case someone goes down. But if those guys aren't quite ready yet, and there's a big drop-off from your starter to your second team guy, then you have to be careful how you do that. If there's not a huge drop-off and things are really close, then I think you can get both of them meaningful experience."

Brohm has at times in the past played a top freshman quarterback during second quarters of games so that he can be ready at a moment's notice to take over if needed. Is this something he might consider with O'Toole?

"We have to see how it goes. But we do want to get guys ready to go. I think all three guys have talent and can bring something to the table. It's just a matter of them performing on the field in the spring and the summer and see how fast they can get ready, and what they can bring to us to help us win. Whatever it takes to win, that's what we want to do."

Illinois started redshirt freshman Scheelhaase throughout the 2010 season, and he made major improvements as the season went along. Since only true freshmen backed him up, it was extremely fortunate Scheelhaase stayed healthy.

"You always want your guys to stay healthy and not get injured, especially at quarterback. It would have been rough," Brohm understated.

Ideally, a college team should have 4-5 quarterbacks in the system, with at least one in every class. The top ones should have plenty of experience. Brohm has yet to have that with the Illini, but he feels one trait is even more important than experience.

"You always want to have as much experience as possible. The thing you always want to have I think is guys that are hungry. One of Nathan's main strengths last year was he was hungry last year. He wanted to be a great player, and he worked hard at it. He did whatever you asked.

"He was tough, and we were able to coach him hard; nothing got him down, whether it was a few bad plays by him or us getting on him. You want guys who are hungry.

"If you have experience, you still want guys who are hungry. A key to that is having guys to push them. I think if you can get more guys in to push your starter, push him to be his best and have others right there on his tail, it not only makes him better, it makes the whole position better. We're trying to get as much depth as we can so guys can be pushed. That's the key."

Young quarterbacks can succeed at Illinois because offensive coordinator Paul Petrino adjusts his play-calling to the abilities of his players.

"Coach Petrino does a great job of catering the offense to the quarterback's strengths and building it around that. We're always gonna carry enough offense to win the game. The quarterback has to be able to handle that load, and the more you're around the more you can handle. The guys work hard and study hard, so I don't think that's a problem."

O'Toole will have an opportunity to make an impression this fall. Another possible addition to the quarterback derby is Chase Haslett. The St. Louis product is scheduled to walk on in the fall. Since he has not signed a national letter of intent, Brohm cannot comment on him.

A Brohm recruit from his home town may see early playing time. Louisville tight end Jon Davis is a playmaker who can thrive in the Illini offense according to Brohm.

"We identified him as one of the two top players in the state of Kentucky. Lamar Dawson was one, and he went to USC. Jon Davis was the other one, and he happened to be from the city of Louisville.

"He's a guy we'd been recruiting from day one. When we got here, he was already committed somewhere else. He expressed interest in us quite frequently. Once he decided that, we decided to try to go get him.

"He's an athletic kid who can run and stretch the field. He's got speed, he's got good ball skills. He's someone we think can do some very good things for our offense. He played some tailback, he played some other positions.

"I don't think his team had a great record. So his learning curve is maybe gonna be a little bit higher than you'd like, but I think he's a great kid who's gonna work hard. How fast he'll be ready, I don't know. We'll try to push him to be ready as fast as we can."

Brohm hopes to continue recruiting Kentucky hard. Davis joining the fold might help with future recruiting there.

"I think so. The state of Kentucky is gonna have a few top guys here or there. Maybe not as many as other states, but you identify the ones that they have and how they fit into your program, and you try to go get them.

"But like Coach (Ron Zook) says, recruiting is about family and friends, people you know. I definitely know a lot of people there, and that helps when it comes to recruiting there."

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