Strong Winds Don't Deter 1st Day Of Hitting

The Fighting Illini finally got to put on full pads and do some hitting as Camp Rantoul continued Tuesday. Coach Ron Zook wants to introduce them to contact slowly, so only one segment of practice was devoted to it. But Illini players found their need for hitting satisfied temporarily. They will get more such action as preseason practice continues.

A strong crosswind visited the second day of Fighting Illini football practice at Camp Rantoul Tuesday. Gusting past 30 mph on occasion, the wind forced placekickers to adjust their trajectories. Hitting longer field goals required starting the ball left of the uprights and allowing the wind to bring it back in. Both Derek Dimke and Matt Eller appeared to get the hang of it.

The Oklahoma Drill is a tradition for the first day of full pads at Illinois. Pitting an offensive player versus a defensive player in a confined space, a running back tries to slip past the wrestling match in front of him. It is a favorite drill for the players.

Unlike some years, there were no extraordinary mismatches leading to celebration by the side of the ball whose player dominated action. Perhaps this is an indication both sides of the ball are fairly evenly matched, with enough depth to sustain effort throughout the drill.

Those watching from a distance couldn't see everything going on. This was made doubly difficult when players circled around the action, blocking the view. But a few players appeared to win their battles.

For example, Michael Buchanan had the upper hand on Eddie Viliunas on one occasion. Pat Nixon-Youman and Jack Ramsey each defeated Ryan Lankford. Jake Howe appeared to gain advantage over Tony Durkin.

Also, Jonathan Brown overcame Bud Golden. K.J. Pickard had his way with Kenny Knight. Austin Teitsma outwrestled Alex Hill. Tavon Wilson topped Chris Willett, and Henry Dickinson topped Tyler Sands.

The offense had success also. Hugh Thornton knocked Akeem Spence out of the way and won at least one other battle; Graham Pocic topped Wisdom Onyegbule; Jack Cornell appeared to win his match with Craig Wilson; and Jake Kumerow did likewise with Justin Green.

In addition, Ted Karras topped Chris O'Connor; Donovonn Young knocked Jeremy Whitlow out of the way; Fred Sykes showed his experience against Supo Sanni; and Anthony Williams won one of his efforts.

The rest of practice concluded without tackling. There was a lot of 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 work as both offense and defense continue to install plays and improve techniques. In two different 7 on 7 segments, starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase completed 12 of 15 passes and seemed unaffected by the wind. One of his tosses was dropped.

He completed his first six throws and 7 of the first 8 without favoring any one target. In order, he hit Troy Pollard, Zach Becker, Kumerow, Lankford, Brandon Clear, Anthony Williams and Sykes. Scheelhaase has many targets from which to choose, and he's spreading the ball around.

Miles Osei is showing the benefit of a year in the system as well. Overall, he completed five of seven passes and appeared relaxed and confident. Freshman Reilly O'Toole was a nervous 1 for three before rebounding to hit his last four throws.

When the Illini went to situational 11 on 11 work, Scheelhaase and Osei continued to throw well. Scheelhaase hit four of six passes, and Osei was a perfect three for three. O'Toole was one for three. Darius Millines made a leaping grab of a Scheelhaase as a highlight of the passing game.

Many of the running plays were stuffed quickly, although running backs continued to battle after the first hit and may have extended their gains if tackling was permitted. Jason Ford, Young and Josh Ferguson all broke free for extra yardage. Pollard may have had the best hole, bursting up the middle on a long gainer.

The offense appeared to have an advantage in the passing game Tuesday, but there were a couple quality defensive plays as well. Valdon Cooper broke up an O'Toole pass on a nice play. Zeph Grimes did likewise.

A number of defensive linemen and linebackers contributed to stuffing the running game. Craig Wilson was an immovable force on plays run to his area.

Practice continues Wednesday with double sessions beginning at 8:05 am and 6:15 pm.

Watch video of the Illini quarterbacks and receivers below.

Watch video of the Illini tight ends and offensive linemen below.

Illini Inquirer Top Stories