Running Backs Show Stuff At Camp Rantoul

The Fighting Illini football team continued preparations for the 2011 season with an afternoon practice at Camp Rantoul Thursday. While the defense held the upper hand Wednesday, the running game came alive when full contact was permitted today. It became clear the Illini have backs who can fight for extra yardage.

Illinois held a single practice Thursday afternoon after double sessions the day before. There was a lot of fundamental work, allowing the players to ease back into it after a heavy day. Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning ordered his first pursuit drill of the fall, likely to keep the defense on its toes after a good day yesterday.

There also was time for some contact work late in the practice, with 20 situational plays called. Head coach Ron Zook appeared satisfied by the aggressiveness the Illini continue to show on both sides of the ball.

"It's competitive, which is what you want. They did a good job."

Zook was asked whether the team is on schedule to this point.

"I think so. It's never as fast as you'd like, but we're ahead of schedule."

The running backs had a good day, especially in the situational work. It is hard to see them at their best when no tackling is permitted. But for several Illini, contact proved their true talent.

Senior Jason Ford demonstrated why he is the clear #1 at the position. He powered through tacklers on one quality run. Later, he burst through a small hole and ran for what would have been a 65 yard touchdown had the play not been whistled dead. Ford has always had the power, and he seems to have more quickness to go with it.

Ford hasn't been a workhorse yet in practice since there are others who need reps at the position. Zook was asked if competition from Troy Pollard, Donovonn Young, Josh Ferguson, Bud Golden and Ean Days is making Ford a better player.

"I don't know if he's being pushed, but those guys are pretty good players. Jason's doing a good job. I'm not worried about Jason. He's a load. I worry about when he runs into our guys."

Young drew the biggest cheer from the rest of the offense by breaking several tackles, churning his feet and making a quick spin move for extra yardage. Ferguson showed his quickness on one run and fought for extra yardage on another. And Days drove defenders backward on a hard run of his own.

Several receivers made big plays throughout the day also. Among those most obvious, Ryan Lankford made a great catch with Justin Green draped over him. Anthony Williams made a super leaping grab in the corner of the end zone on a pass from Nathan Scheelhaase. Freshman tight end Matt LaCosse caught a touchdown pass, and tight end Justin Lattimore joined the fun on a flat pattern.

The defense had its moments as well. Defensive backs Supo Sanni, Tavon Wilson and Steve Hull broke up passes in 7 on 7 action. Terry Hawthorne did likewise late in the day. Defensive tackle Akeem Spence had a sack, while Trulon Henry and Jonathan Brown had tackles for loss. Big hits were supplied by Hull, freshman linebacker Ralph Cooper, Pat Nixon-Youman and Valdon Cooper.

Afterward, Zook was asked if he has talked to his new boss Mike Thomas.

"Yes I did. He called me this morning. We talked for a few minutes. He was on vacation when it happened. We'll get together whenever he gets the opportunity."

He also stated Illini fans may get their first glimpse of freshman offensive guard Chris Boles, who has been awaiting academic clearance.

"Chris I think is gonna be here tomorrow morning. He's got to go through the acclimation period, two days in shorts and two days in shoulder pads and shorts. Fifth day he can have full contact. He'll be a little bit behind the curve when he gets here.

"That just adds to our freshman group. That freshman offensive line has got a chance to be pretty good. All of them. We've got to do the same thing to the defensive side."

Saturday's controlled scrimmage is scheduled for 6:30 pm. Zook says the format will be similar to previous years.

The preliminary forecast calls for a chance of rain Saturday. Zook was asked how that might affect the scrimmage.

"We might change the time if there is going to be rain. I'll have to look at that."

The following are some highlights of Illini defensive line drills.

The following are some highlights of Illini defensive back and linebacker drills.

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